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back to article Stray SMS leads to aborted landing

On May 27th, 2010, as an A310 flying from Darwin to Singapore descended to just 500 feet above terra firma, crew noticed the craft was not ready to land. In accordance with the procedures of the airline concerned, Australian budget flier Jetstar, the crew executed a “go-around”, the hasty cancellation of landing and consequent …

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Headmaster

" ... provided new learnings ..."

What happened to that good old fashioned word, 'lessons'.

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Re: " ... provided new learnings ..."

Management speak invades our daily lives more and more, and it is right that is should, and will do so going forward...

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Thumb Up

Re: " ... provided new learnings ..."

Face it, the airlines do speak their own language sometimes which isn't dissimilar to management jargon.

This blog post on airlinese is quite a good read.

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Pint

Re: " ... provided new learnings ..."

...for make benefit glorious airline of Australia.

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Thumb Up

Re: " ... provided new learnings ..."

It's all in the spirit of positivism, refraining from negative words like don't and not.

I suppose if some people are not confident flyers they do* need some fluffy language to see them off rather than being upset even before they take off.

*did you see what I did do** there?

**and there

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Silver badge

"checked his messages rather than checking his readiness to land"

That's probably overstating it, perhaps for comic effect. Most airlines have a 'sterile cockpit' policy during critical phases of flight such as final approach. In any case, as the old safety maxim has it: "if there is any doubt. there is no doubt". Strange, unexpected noises (such as 'SMS received' tones) close to landing are a reasonable justification for a go-around, particularly in well-controlled airspace with no nearby terrain issues, like Singapore.

The story does rather give the lie to concerns that active mobile phones are a threat to flight safety. I'm sure they are inadvertently left switched on in cockpits on a regular basis.

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"The story does rather give the lie to concerns that...

"...active mobile phones are a threat to flight safety..."

But they may be a threat to the safety of the dickhead with the loud voice and the exceptionally irritating ring-tone...

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At least he wasn't American

...they prefer to shoot holes in the side of their cockpit as distraction of choice.

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Question: How come I can't even have a mobile phone on a plane that's switched on during the flight, but the pilot can leave one in his pocket and receive a message without interfering with a single cockpit instrument?

Or is, as everyone's known for years, the "no mobile phone" thing actually NOTHING to do with aircraft safety at all on any modern plane and wouldn't affect it one ounce (because otherwise, they would need you to HAND IN your phone to check it was off and not just rely on you to have turned it off and be honest about it)?

And, either way, how can a pilot break a rule that he expects passengers to enforce when his attention is actually MORE important than any of ours? Who cares about the fly-around (as the article states, it happens all the time for millions of reasons), why isn't he disciplined for NOT TURNING HIS PHONE OFF, like I would be if I was to vocally refuse to do so on an aircraft?

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Devil

Seriously?

"why isn't he disciplined for NOT TURNING HIS PHONE OFF, like I would be if I was to vocally refuse to do so on an aircraft?"

I've flown a dozen times in the last 12 months, and although the safety messages clearly state "please turn off", I appear to be the only person doing so. I've seen people with iPads just flip the cover over, and one character took the earphones from his iPad and then plugged them into his iPhone so he could listen to music whilst landing. He just turned his head and ignored the cabin staff completely.

As for actually landing, it's usully accompanied by various pinging noises as people text, check email, etc. I even raised the issue once with a stewardess and she told me that they had been instructed NOT to challenge passengers in case the person started to get snotty with them and caused a rumpus.

Mind you there was one arrogant twat that also was the first out of his seat before the seat belts light went off, was almost trying to get the aircraft door open himself in his hurry. When he got to the baggage reclaim, his bag wasn't there; I openly laughed at him which didn't go down too well - especially when mine was second out and I was able to stroll nonchantly off to the exit.

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Anonymous Coward

Weird standards

The whole electronic items thing is weirdly applied anyway. Last flight I was on, the stewardess was insisting people turned their Kindles 'off off' - ie: not just wifi/3G off, not even the usual switched off, but slide and hold the power switch until you get the white screen. Yet iPhones and their ilk just needed to be in aircraft mode and tucked out of sight...?

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and you just try sitting in the cockpit and making announcements over the tannoy. It's like there's one rule for them and one for the passengers...

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Anonymous Coward

Interference

Why flying over land at 10000m height, your cellphone/mobile device can easily drown out thousands of devices on the ground, which communicate to several cell towers.

That is because the aircraft is in direct line of sight of these cell towers. Also, the mobile devices will reconnect to new towers all the time, because aircraft are quite fast at cruise altitude. Then factor in 400 cellphones in an A380 and you have some real problems on the ground.

Also, it cannot be ruled out that a mobile phone transmitter running at full power will interfere with the plane's receiver antenna/reciever, despite the fact that it works at different frequencies. At long distances, the desired signal is very, very weak and it is indeed conceivable that a nearby transmitter will create serious problems. There was a reason why HMS Sheffield had their radar receivers turned off. Before they got hit.

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Re: Yet iPhones and their ilk just needed to be in aircraft mode

> The regulations are there in case of an accident and resulting fuel spill

The only really likely way a cellphone could cause a problem there would be if it got dropped or smashed in the crash, and there was a spark as the battery disconnected. That could happen whether it was on or off.

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I'm sure he didn't leave it on intentionally, Lee. But any flight with more than a few dozen passengers is almost certain to have at least one active mobile on board. I know I've accidentally left mine on at least once, and I'm the sort of anal retentive that listens carefully to safety briefings and follows instructions from the crew.

There's been a lot of research into the subject of radio interference with flight systems by people like the IEEE, and the conclusion is that it could cause a problem (though it almost certainly won't). Their view is that there's no point taking risks at 35,000 feet, and I heartily concur. It's unreasonable to expect cabin crew to be familiar with every type of electronic device and whether it's running iOS 3.1.2 or Android 4.5.7.1, so a blanket 'turn the damn things off during takeoff/landing' seems sensible to me.

Surely even the greatest iFan can manage without their pet for 20 minutes. You can do something else interesting, like marvel at the fact that science and technology allow us to propel hundreds of people through the air in a thin aluminium tube at barely subsonic speeds in almost perfect safety. Or you could even do something wild and reckless like communicating with another human (unless I'm trying to sleep, obviously). Wearing earbuds while the crew are shouting 'brace, brace,brace' probably isn't a good idea either.

It's instructive that, now there's money to be made from it, airlines are installing picocells to allow mobiles to be used in flight. Communicating with a local cell should ensure that signal levels are kept to a minimum, but I can't help wondering what will happen when the kit fails (or, more likely, is switched off by mistake). Dozens of mobiles will swiftly ramp up to max power in a futile attempt to contact the next cell 7 miles below (or 1,000 miles east if you're transoceanic). It will be an interesting test of the IEEE research, but I'd really prefer not to be on board the first few times it happens.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interference

Yes, I'm quite sure that mobile phones have enough power to communicate with base stations 10-14 km away. :rolleyes:

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interference

Yes, I'm quite sure that mobile phones have enough power to communicate with base stations 10-14 km away. :rolleyes:

Forget to mention the belly of the plane and all that atmosphere, cloud etc. and that cell masts have a fairly narrow vertical beam width.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interference

i have always understood that their radar was shut down cos it was causing problems with flyboys harrier radar and coms, i still reckon was bullshit excuse, raf and gb gov wanted to sell harriers if they could, they did not want mirages etc chopped out of the sky by cheap, effective ground to air missile, i. e rapier, loads of competition and low profiits sales compated harrier sale.

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Anonymous Coward

Because...

...air travel is unpleasant enough without having to sit next to some twonk bellowing down his shiny thing, "Yes, I'm in a plane..." It'd be worse than rush hour on the Northern Line, where at least nobody with any sense is trying to have a nap to avoid jet lag.

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FAIL

Re: Interference

> Yes, I'm quite sure that mobile phones have enough power to communicate with base stations 10-14 km away. :rolleyes:

Of course they do. A GSM phone can have up to 2 watts output, that's plenty for 50-60km under ordinary conditions, and several hundred if conditions are good. Part of the standard for such phones is that they negotiate with the base station to use the minimum power required, but they will crank it up when necessary if the base station signal is weak.

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Mushroom

Re: Interference

Considering satellites in low earth orbit (600 - 800 km) have transmitters with an output of a few hundred milliwatts, then 2W at 50-60km will go a long way!

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Re: Interference

A few hundred milliwatts in a directed beam. Your phone puts out a signal in all directions, meaning the inverse sqare law applies and power drops off very quickly with distance.

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WTF?

Re: Interference

> Why flying over land at 10000m height, your cellphone/mobile device can easily drown out

> thousands of devices on the ground, which communicate to several cell towers.

Bollocks it could. If that was the case someone standing next to the BTS would knock out everyone else using it. You might confuse the cellular network, but you won't 'drown out' anything.

> Also, it cannot be ruled out that a mobile phone transmitter running at full power will

> interfere with the plane's receiver antenna/reciever, despite the fact that it works at different

> frequencies

A GSM phone has a 2 watt transmitter.

Sutton Coldfield is a TV and radio transmitter station, near Birmingham in the UK. It puts out a million watts on TV, and 250,000w on FM radio i.e. at least 125,000 times the power of a phone.

Sutton Coldfield is fairly near Birmingham airport, which has a radar system. I don't know the output of it, but it will be several kilowatts.

A mobile phone's output is insignificant compared to them, and yet planes don't fall out of the sky.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interference

> Considering satellites in low earth orbit (600 - 800 km) have transmitters with an output of a few hundred milliwatts, then 2W at 50-60km will go a long way!

Yes, when you have an aerial / dish pointed at the thing.

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Mushroom

Off off off

As we all know, mobile phones make petrol stations explode on a regular basis.

They also kill millions of hospital patients by interfering with their beepy monitor things.

It stands to reason that they make planes crash, too.

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Boffin

Re: Interference

Nope, even with a dipole antenna 100 km is possible. The main limiting factor for GSM is the ground and other obstructions.

Here's a back-of-the-envelope calculation:

Handheld power output of 2 W, dipole antenna of 1.5 dBi

Tower sensitivity of -102 dBm (that's actually the handheld, but the tower should be better), and dipole antenna

Work that out in free space with Frii's equation and you have a margin of 100 dB, which is 100 km. If you assume the tower antenna is pointed downwards and you therefore have a gain of, say, -20 dB, you've still got 10 km range.

Clouds and rain have minimal effect at 900 MHz, and the plane's clearly not that good of a Faraday cage, judging by the signal I get at the gate.

GPS manages to go 20,000 km with a measly 500 W equivalent (taking the antenna into account, in other words), as long as you have line of sight.

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Boffin

Re: Interference

Except for the fact that generally it is wasteful for cellular masts to send their signal up into the atmosphere, so usually they are designed to minimise that.

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Holmes

Re: Weird standards

Nope, all electronics have to be OFF not plane safe mode or stand by. You can put them on plane safe mode and have them turned on once the fasten seat belt sign is off.

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Mushroom

Re: Yet iPhones and their ilk just needed to be in aircraft mode

Actually, a mobile phone can spark without being dropped which is why you can't use mobile phones in petrol stations.

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WTF?

@ Bazayjaytee

"... a mobile phone can spark without being dropped ..." I suppose you have some reliable evidence for that extraordinary claim?

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Coat

So how close are we to the new cockpit paradigm?

Two crew and a dog: one crewmember to check his messages, the dog to bite him if it looks like he might touch a flight control, and the other crewmember to feed the dog...

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Happy

Re: So how close are we to the new cockpit paradigm?

So no-one's going to hijack a plane BECAUSE THEY MIGHT KILL A PUPPY....

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Coat

Re: So how close are we to the new cockpit paradigm?

"Two crew and a dog"

There's no need to be rude about the cabin crew!

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FAIL

Reality check for commercial pilots everywhere!

"don’t result in an ascent much sharper than that experienced during takeoff."

Takeoff: that would be the part of the flight that my wife starts crying and thinking she is going to die. Landing is a slightly better affair, if only for the fact it means the terrifying journey is nearly over.

Thinking it is no big deal to suddenly start ascending just when people think they are going to be landing is probably quite startling, even for experienced fliers.

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Unhappy

Re: Reality check for commercial pilots everywhere!

I'm exactly the same as your wife.

It's the knowledge that on the way up, if things go wrong, you're already going to be clear of the runway and the ground is only a few hundred (maybe!) feet away, while the aircraft is going to have to perform some sort of ludicrous feat of physic-defiance to recover from a situation that it is only just designed to achieve in ideal conditions, with a fully laden compliment of highly combustible aviation fuel.

Coming down for landing is somewhat more acceptable - the fuels all gone, everyone on both the ground and in the air is expecting the descent and you have 2 miles of nice flat tarmac especially cleared for you to aim for.

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@Jebiden

It's all good thinking that all fuel is gone but according to ICAO worldwide rules the excess fuel one must carry beyond what is calculated for a given journey is:

1) extra fuel for 30' to 60' to deal with possible weather adversities and deviations

2) extra 15' as safety

3) extra 5% of the total (including above extras) as a final safety.

In layman's terms this means that most intra-EU flights land having consumed around 50% of the fuel they departed with.

And in any eventuality, 45' flight-time woth of fuel is enough to seriously grill any plane. Your best bet is hoping for rain or drizzle than empty fuel tanks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Reality check for commercial pilots everywhere!

> Thinking it is no big deal to suddenly start ascending just when people think they are going to be landing is probably quite startling, even for experienced fliers.

It's not, actually. I've been on large commercial aircraft on two occasions when the pilot has had to go-around, both times we had wheels down and were tens of seconds from landing. There's a brief moment of "hmm, that feels different, are we going up again?" followed by the sound of the gear going up & the drop in wind noise from that. It takes a few moments to convince yourself that you are actually climbing gently again (I've not experienced the effect of the "oh, FUCK!" button described in the article, although I'm told that the experience of a 757 climbing on full power is not soon forgotten :) )

There's no communication from the cockpit, the crew are obviously busy, so it's actually slightly more disturbing afterwards if the pilot chooses to explain. When it happened at SFO the pilot apologized for the go-around, which was because 'there was another aircraft on our runway". Thanks, ATC! At Geneva the comment was just "sorry about the go-around, it can sometimes seem dramatic but it's pretty routine. Those on the left will get a really good view of Geneva and the fountain...".

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Happy

Re: Reality check for commercial pilots everywhere!

I have experienced it, in a mostly empty Easyjet 737 (heavy mist, wheels inches from the ground when control tower informed pilot the previous aircraft hadn't left the runway. And they told us).

Let me tell you, I was grinning for hours :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re The fuel's all gone

Actually with safety margins (ie. you don't want to reach your final destination running on empty!) I'd imagine there's still a good enough amount of fuel in those tanks to make quite a bang if provoked!

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Flame

Re: @Jebiden

Thanks!

<--- I think you can guess what the icon is for...

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Mushroom

Re: Reality check for commercial pilots everywhere!

Where's the "eek" button?!

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Anonymous Coward

Reality check for commercial passengers everywhere!

No stick, no vote.

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Happy

"But there’s another button for graver circumstances that really does give a plane all it’s got,"

Oooooh! Like the lift in Willy Wonka?

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Alert

"But there’s another button for graver circumstances"

Isn't Eject usually a handle ?

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Well handled

I'm biased, but NO OTHER INDUSTRY reports its incidents so openly as the Aviation Industry.

Google for AAIB and see all the UK incidents

If this had been a boat or a bus, you'd never have heard of it.

And if it had been a medical incident, well, the Doctor would have "buried it". Literally...

Well done to the crew for handling it well.

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Silver badge

Re: Well handled

There's a reason that some transportation systems are better covered.

When something goes wrong and you're flying, there's a very high chance that you'll hit the ground hard.

When something goes wrong and you're in a bus, there's a very high chance that the bus will stop and you can get off it.

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Coat

Re: Well handled

@Melanie Winiger: and I thought the Met Police did their incident reporting just as well...

Mine's the one with the portal to a parallel universe in its pocket.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oops

Bullshit

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