back to article Tablet computer zoom error saw plane fly 13 hours with 46cm hole

A Qatar Airways Boeing 777 travelling from Miami to Doha struck airport lights during takeoff and suffered a 46 cm tear in the fuselage, thanks in part to a pilot zooming in too far on a tablet computer. Flight QR778 left Miami on September 15th but as it took off, hit airport landing lights. On arrival the plane was found to …

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  1. ideapete
    Pint

    Goooooooo Bill

    Windows 8 OS Needs Zoooooom to read runway signs and Zooooom out to see where you friging are on the Runway on a multi million dollar plane. . Thank you Bill Gates bloody we'll done

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Goooooooo Bill

      You can hardly blame Windows (if indeed the tablet was even running Windows) for a poorly designed app. If a guy driving a Focus runs over your dog, is it Ford's fault?

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        "You can hardly blame Windows (if indeed the tablet was even running Windows) for a poorly designed app. If a guy driving a Focus runs over your dog, is it Ford's fault?"

        That depends if the design of the vehicle / controls contributed to the accident doesn't it? If you couldn't see the dog because the driver's position had poor visibility, or because the brakes took too long to respond then yes Ford would have some blame to share for the accident.

        I have no idea what OS the tablet was running or what software. But if it did something that compromised safety / procedure then yes you could blame it to some degree.

        The article suggests the accident happened because the pilot zoomed in to see some taxi marker labels. And in doing so he screwed up his takeoff procedure and nearly crashed his plane. Something as simple as increasing the font size and / or limiting the zoom could have averted a potentially catastrophic accident. And if that's the case then yes the software played its part in the accident.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Goooooooo Bill

          "That depends if the design of the vehicle / controls contributed to the accident doesn't it? If you couldn't see the dog because the driver's position had poor visibility, or because the brakes took too long to respond then yes Ford would have some blame to share for the accident"

          No - they wouldn't

          Both of those things should be in the experience of the driver - and they should be accomodating them.

          1. DrXym Silver badge

            Re: Goooooooo Bill

            "No - they wouldn't

            Both of those things should be in the experience of the driver - and they should be accomodating them."

            Er yes they would if you bothered to read what I wrote. If a car had a fault such that visibility was impeded or the brakes didn't apply quickly enough then the manufacturer shares some of the blame for any accident that those flaws contributed to.

            And the same goes for software, particular software which has a safety aspect. In this case a plane nearly crashed because a font was too small and the pilot zoomed in too far. A mistake that could have been anticipated and if it had been could have averted a potential disaster. Think about that and come back when the penny drops.

            1. ChrisBedford

              Re: Goooooooo Bill

              "If a car had a fault such that visibility was impeded or the brakes didn't apply quickly enough then the manufacturer shares some of the blame for any accident that those flaws contributed to."

              OK well I guess that's the American philosophy, i.e. "It can't be my fault, someone else must take the blame". The last hammer I bought has a fault: there is no safety mechanism to prevent you from hitting your own thumb with it, ergo the company that made it shares some of the blame for my injury.

              1. DrXym Silver badge

                Re: Goooooooo Bill

                "OK well I guess that's the American philosophy, i.e. "It can't be my fault, someone else must take the blame". The last hammer I bought has a fault: there is no safety mechanism to prevent you from hitting your own thumb with it, ergo the company that made it shares some of the blame for my injury."

                No, it's not "American philosophy". It's the obvious and demonstrable point of fact.

                When a catastrophic error occurs, there are invariably a combination of factors that contributed to it. If you can't see the dog because the car has an unusually bad field of view, or the brakes don't work as you expect then that's a contributing factor. There are no two ways about it. Ford is not absolved of blame if this were the case.

                And it happens all the time in cars. They get recalls because it turns out the brakes are defective, or the steering is, or the safety belts, or the software..

                It's a point that appears to elude people. Software and hardware that have a safety function have to anticipate and prevent user error. If a pilot is supposed to be calculating their takeoff then the software running on a tablet has to make such an action explicit and obvious to minimize error. If the guy is zoomed in looking at labels because they're so small then that is a flaw. Perhaps there are also procedural errors that could be corrected by requiring the copilot to independently confirm the figures. Whatever the contributing factors were it nearly cost the lives of everyone on board.

            2. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: Goooooooo Bill

              "Er yes they would if you bothered to read what I wrote. If a car had a fault such that visibility was impeded or the brakes didn't apply quickly enough then the manufacturer shares some of the blame for any accident that those flaws contributed to."

              Actually - you said design, not fault.

              If the brakes failed at that instant then you get to share the blame with someone - but that's why there are two braking systems, so that you never have total failure at one instant.

              If there was only one braking circuit, and the master cylinder exploded then I'd start to blame manufacture...

        2. Steven Raith

          Re: Goooooooo Bill

          "That depends if the design of the vehicle / controls contributed to the accident doesn't it? If you couldn't see the dog because the driver's position had poor visibility, or because the brakes took too long to respond then yes Ford would have some blame to share for the accident"

          No. A thousands times, no.

          My car has wide a-pillars, and the brakes aren't hugely assisted.

          I get around this by leaning around the cabin a bit to see entries to junctions (to mitigate my blind spot where the A-pillars are from a normal seated position) and by pressing the brake pedal harder then you would in, say, a new Corsa.

          As the driver, it's *my* responsibility to know how to use my car safely and to *not* drive it if I feel that's not possible. Nobody elses.

          Steven R

        3. GavinC

          Re: Goooooooo Bill

          " Something as simple as increasing the font size and / or limiting the zoom could have averted a potentially catastrophic accident."

          Unfortunately its not as simple as that. Airports are large, complicated places, and fitting all the information on one screen is just not possible. The only way to make it readable is to zoom in. Think looking at a google map showing all of London, and expecting to see every street name on the screen - not going to happen.

          If you visit http://avherald.com/h?article=48c78b3a&opt=0 you will see a screenshot of the application in question, zoomed as they appear to have had it set. They departed using the runway at the bottom of the screenshot, and entered using taxiway T1 (the far left), which as you can see appears to be the end of the runway. In fact it is not, and the runway actually extends 411m beyond the screenshot.

          As you can also see, this screen is quite cluttered, and there is simply no room to display the text if you are zoomed out any further.

          Additionally, according to the linked article, there may also have been some confusion caused by some non-standard phraseology used at the airport. They were instructed to depart "Runway 09#T1", which is used to refer to a full length takeoff. It seems they may have confused this with a take-off beginning from taxiway T1.

          1. Johan Bastiaansen

            Re: Goooooooo Bill

            "They were instructed to depart "Runway 09#T1", which is used to refer to a full length takeoff. It seems they may have confused this with a take-off beginning from taxiway T1."

            Well, that's confusion terminology isn't it. They could have called the departing aircraft T1 and the control tower also T1 I guess.

            We don't need these sloppy systems that are so prone to error and misunderstandings.

            We need robust systems, where an error is corrected.

            Surely the airport has radar as well. Didn't anybody notice that the plane didn't take off from the start of the runway?

            Why doesn't the runway count down in big numbers the remaining length of the runway at every 500 meters? Noooo, we have a smart system with coloured lines. Off course you do. And when the aircraft reaches the coloured lines, it's too late to abort the take off. How very smart of you.

            No doubt they will attribute it to human error again. They've got that right, but they're aiming at the wrong humans. They are the ones who pile mistake on mistake and refuse to accept any responsibility.

            These systems is set up by fools who see no problem in losing a plane fully loaded with crew and passengers in mid-air and see no reason to install a simple GPS system like the ones installed in company owned vans and trucks.

            Can't we give them a rubber dinghy and make them search the seas for that missing Malaysian airliner?

          2. Mark 85 Silver badge

            @GavinC -- Re: Goooooooo Bill

            I guess no one looked out the window and saw an abundance of runway in the other direction? Which at one time was normal practice. First off to see if you were getting the full runway and secondly to make sure the tower didn't screw up and have a plane coming in while you're trying to take off*.

            *It's happened more than once...

          3. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: Goooooooo Bill

            " Something as simple as increasing the font size and / or limiting the zoom could have averted a potentially catastrophic accident."

            Unfortunately its not as simple as that. Airports are large, complicated places, and fitting all the information on one screen is just not possible. The only way to make it readable is to zoom in.

            Or... I dunno... carry a flippin' paper map which has all the information clearly labelled all the time with no need to zoom or scroll? Didn't a typical ICAO map containing all the necessary and relevant information fit neatly into an A4 ring binder or something (not a pilot, just a vague memory from seeing things on TV). Haven't they been used pretty successfully for the last 70-odd years?

            I understand that the functions carried out by these tablets remove a heck of a lot of unwieldy paperwork, etc, from the pilots and probably make keeping up-to-date with changes easier, but there has to be something said for paper. I say this as the owner of a shelf of paper maps and several "road atlases" with no dedicated GPS device and whose mobile phone (which can do GPS) has that function switched off nearly all the time.

            Here's a thought. Couldn't the map on the tablet be set to scroll automatically so that the current position of the aircraft is always in the centre, and perhaps set so that labels in the immediate vicinity of the aircraft are made more obvious (larger) on the screen by removing more distant (and irrelevant) labels? This implies that the tablet either has an independent positioning facility or can receive data from the aircraft systems, both of which I can see might be a problem, but surely not insurmountable.

            Ooh, ooh, and if the tablet (or, for that matter, the aircraft) knows where it is, couldn't there be a readout somewhere that says "you have <d>meters of runway from this position and have programmed in a takeoff run of <r> meters"?

            Nah. Silly. Welcome our brain-replacing unthinking tablet overlords.

            M.

            1. Vic

              Re: Goooooooo Bill

              Didn't a typical ICAO map containing all the necessary and relevant information fit neatly into an A4 ring binder or something

              Mine are approximately A5. A tablet is actually nicer to use in many respects - particularly at night. And zooming is good (the paper ones are fairly small print, can be quite tricky to read in low-light conditions). But that doesn't mean electronic trumps paper; it's simply a tool, and it is up to the pilot to ensure he uses his tools correctly.

              Here's a thought. Couldn't the map on the tablet be set to scroll automatically so that the current position of the aircraft is always in the centre

              Dear $deity, please no. If you are not currently in the centre of the runway, you'd need to zoom right out to find stuff out towards the airfield perimeter - negating pretty much all the benefits of using a tablet in the first place...

              Ooh, ooh, and if the tablet (or, for that matter, the aircraft) knows where it is, couldn't there be a readout somewhere that says "you have <d>meters of runway from this position and have programmed in a takeoff run of <r> meters"?

              That's adding quite a bit of complexity to a system without a whole lot of benefit - remember that we're only discussing this because of a very rare incident. Piloits are supposed to know where they are in the airfield, and have planned appropriately for their flight. In the event that they are unsure, they can call the tower for clarification of anything. And transport aircraft always have multiple crew; this accident only occurred because the captain overestimated his own capability and the remaining crew were scared to challenge him. Both of these situations are specifically warned against in the Human Performace and Limitations[1] training (that we've all had).

              Vic.

              [1] The name has changed since I did the exam...

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: Goooooooo Bill

                A tablet is actually nicer to use in many respects - particularly at night.

                Doesn't it create problems with your night vision, alternately looking out of the window and trying to read small print on a brightly-lit tablet screen?

                And zooming is good (the paper ones are fairly small print, can be quite tricky to read in low-light conditions). But that doesn't mean electronic trumps paper; it's simply a tool, and it is up to the pilot to ensure he uses his tools correctly.

                Well yes, and I suppose that this is the real moral of the story, alongside the bit about there having been three additional pilots (if I read it correctly) monitoring, and none of them challenging the decision. I know there's sometimes one extra pilot - training for example - but two?

                Anyway, I refer the honourable gentlemen to the "Ipswitch" episode of Cabin Pressure, a link for an excerpt from which I have provided elsewhere ;-)

                M.

                1. Vic

                  Re: Goooooooo Bill

                  Doesn't it create problems with your night vision, alternately looking out of the window and trying to read small print on a brightly-lit tablet screen?

                  Even my super-cheapie Android has the ability to turn the brightness down...

                  alongside the bit about there having been three additional pilots (if I read it correctly) monitoring, and none of them challenging the decision

                  There were two crews in the aircraft. The FO of the flying crew confirmed he was happy with the dewcision[1]. Both the relief crew were not, but the Captain's response convinced them that he knew what he was doing. But he didn't.

                  I know there's sometimes one extra pilot - training for example - but two?

                  It was a relief crew. Pilots have a maximum number of hours they can fly per day, and 13 hours is a fairly long flight - longer than a single crew is permitted to fly under FAA regulations.

                  I refer the honourable gentlemen to the "Ipswitch" episode of Cabin Pressure

                  Well, the terminology was a little different from that, but the FO had already said there was a problem by using the standard procedures. The aircraft was in the last 900m of the runway, and he had not called "V1". To put that into context, Miami's runway 09 is 3967m long, and the aircraft actually used 2866m of runway before the wheels lifted. Proper procedure, AIUI, would be to reject the takeoff. And frankly, that would have been a difficult task on a wet runway...

                  Vic.

            2. DrXym Silver badge

              Re: Goooooooo Bill

              I expect the idea is that a tablet can replace dozens of paper binders which have their own ability to be inaccurate and prone to error.

              In any event software doesn't get a free pass. Particularly software with a critical safety element such as this software. Some people on this thread (not you) clearly don't have the capacity to appreciate that.

              1. Vic

                Re: Goooooooo Bill

                Particularly software with a critical safety element such as this software.

                The software in question has no "critical safety element"; it's just a map.

                The pilot has the responsibility to read that map correctly.

                Vic.

          4. RubberJohnny

            Re: Goooooooo Bill

            Unfortunately its not as simple as that. Airports are large, complicated places, and fitting all the information on one screen is just not possible.

            Traditional paper Jeppesen or Bottlang paper charts for airports are not actually very big, smaller than an iPad screen.

            1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

              Re: Goooooooo Bill

              >Traditional paper Jeppesen or Bottlang paper charts for airports are not actually very big, smaller than an iPad screen.<

              length x width. What about depth? If a flight is from Miami to Doha then would paper on-board charts need to cover all possible landing points in between, just in case?

              1. Vic

                Re: Goooooooo Bill

                length x width. What about depth?

                Really thin. It's a piece of paper :-)

                If a flight is from Miami to Doha then would paper on-board charts need to cover all possible landing points in between, just in case?

                There is a plate available for each airport. It is the flight crew's decision as to what they carry[1] - they are the ones who need to be prepared.

                Historically, a flight would often carry an entire book of plates. This isn't enormous, but it's one of several references that the crew might need, and it needs updating form time to time.

                This is the reason many are moving to the Electronic Flight Bag; it's a lot less hassle to carry about with you.

                Vic.

                [1] My guide is in a ring binder, so I generally take out the plates I think I might need and put them in my kneeboard. But I'm not ATPL.

        4. Astcuzene

          Re: Goooooooo Bill

          Sniff, sniff........

          I smell Democrats in this room. There's a potential Hillary Clinton voter who..has to be stopped.

      2. sgp

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        "If a guy driving a Focus runs over your dog, is it Ford's fault?"

        Clearly. Dig up Henry and sue him.

      3. 080

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        If a guy driving a Focus runs over your dog, is it Ford's fault?

        Nope, it's yours for not controlling the mutt.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        If a guy driving a Focus runs over your dog, is it Ford's fault?

        No, no, it's still Bill's fault. Don't confuse us with real life examples, we're in IT.

        (yes, I'm kidding. It's Friday, after all and there's no BOFH story).

      5. JLV Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        >If a guy driving a Focus runs over your dog, is it Ford's fault?

        No, it's Microsoft's fault, on a pre-2014 Focus at least. The MS-sourced onboard entertainment system is sooooo crappy that anyone dealing with it for more than 5 minutes becomes a homicidal maniac, thus targeting poor innocent Fidos to vent.

        Seriously, anyone ever managed to connect their smartphone's music to that POS via Bluetooth? The voice feedback kept on directing me to do something or other on a non-existent menu option to get it to work.

    2. Known Hero

      Re: Goooooooo Bill

      I was under the assumption from (BA) pilot friends that they use IOS in the cockpit?

      Does this differ from airline to airline, can the Reg find out what device they use as standard in the carrier involved, you know, investigative reporting.

    3. Halfmad

      Re: Goooooooo Bill

      iPad is most likely at fault - so let's blame Windows.

      Welcome to The Register, where Windows bashing is mandatory even if it can't be justified by any logical means.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        Welcome to The Register, where Windows bashing is mandatory even if it can't be justified by any logical means.

        You're saying that as if it's a bad thing?

      2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: iPad is most likely at fault - so let's blame Windows.

        Definitely Microsoft's fault. As a kid the Pilot was given Flight Simulator as a Christmas present and he was so enthused by it that he became a pilot.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Goooooooo Bill

      You don't use 10" to 13" displays very often do you? Even an eagle might have a difficult time reading some text unless "Zooooom" (As you call it) is on.

      Please don't touch the keyboard if you don't know how to use the equipment.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Goooooooo Bill

        adaptive zoom might add and remove information at various levels as appropriate. What is the point zooming out and getting a cluttered screen of garbage?

        It is the pilots fault for not being prepared for the flight.

    5. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Gimp

      Re: Goooooooo Bill

      Donald, is this you?

      The rest of the world knows very well that Billy Boy does not work at MSFT nowdays and has had very little to do with the current build of Windows for Tablet PCs. It takes a retard with hair control challenges not to know that.

  2. Eric Olson

    Human arrogance leads to human error

    This can either be seen as a strike against the use of technology or against allowing humanity to use technology.

    I just see it as a strike against hubris... something that's taken trillions of strikes but refuses to step out of the batter's box. I'm sure this won't be the last time, either.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Human arrogance leads to human error

      Indeed, it's the end times. Something a split-screen overview and zoomed-in view cannot fix at all.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Human arrogance leads to human error

      Not quite.

      There is an ongoing issue with Asian airlines. In most of these countries it is considered culturally unacceptable to challenge the decision of a superior. It does not matter what the flight manual say, it does not matter what the company code say - the second in command will smile, say yes sir and pray.

      Incidents like this for the same reason (secondaries not challenging the captain or higher ranking officer) happen regularly on Asian airline flights. The previous well known one was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asiana_Airlines_Flight_214 . If I dig for a while I will dig out > 1 every 3 month on average which has been reported (from public sources) with airlines from that region (pretty much all countries south of China and between India and Japan). The amount which goes on unreported is "god knows".

      Unfortunately, despite this being well known as a recurring issue they are not being prohibited from flying to USA and Europe.

  3. DougS Silver badge
    Devil

    If only they required pilots to have good eyesight

    They wouldn't need to zoom their tablet to be able to read the runway names!

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: If only they required pilots to have good eyesight

      Maybe he lied and was actually watching porn?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: If only they required pilots to have good eyesight

        If the taxiway names ha been in braille he wouldn;t have needed to zoom in

  4. Turtle

    Typo Or Not?

    "An EFB, or “Electronic Flight Bag”, is a system that places all the documents pilots need in a table computer instead of a weighty bag full of printed material."

    I'm not 100% sure that "table computer" is a typo. Is it? I can easily imagine there being such a thing as a "table computer".

    The only place that I recall seeing something that would qualify, though, is in a James Bond movie, possibly Casino Royale (the new one) but maybe not, where some people are examining banknotes, the images of the banknotes being projected on a very large, table-sized touch-screen that was being used as a table i.e.the screen was laid flat, like a table-top. Of course, such a thing intended for use in an airliner cockpit would be rather smaller.

    1. Turtle

      @Turtle Re: Typo Or Not?

      You idiot. Didn't you see that the article's sub-headline says "tablet" so "table" is probably a typo.

      Sheesh!

      1. RIBrsiq
        Thumb Up

        Re: @Turtle Typo Or Not?

        It's OK: I talk to myself all the time. It's perfectly normal. Or that's what I tell myself.

        Admittedly, I don't do it on Internet forums... :-)

        1. Turtle

          @ RIBrsiq Re: @Turtle Typo Or Not?

          "Admittedly, I don't do it on Internet forums..."

          Maybe it's time to start....

          : )

          1. Calum Morrison

            Re: @ RIBrsiq @Turtle Typo Or Not?

            It's not so long ago (it seems to me, but time flies as I get older) Microsoft were demoing a table computer. IIRC it was a big flat touchscreen desk thing, running XP that you all sat around and tweaked and pulled at. Then apple launched the ipad.

            1. Hellcat

              Re: @ RIBrsiq @Turtle Typo Or Not?

              Ah, the original "Surface".

              I use Jepperson marine charts that have a zoom for more detail function - the maps are vector rather than raster. I wonder if their aeronautical maps have the same. If so, then the taxiway labels would not show above a certain zoom and may be something that at least needs to be investigated.

            2. Proton Wrangler

              Re: @ RIBrsiq @Turtle Typo Or Not?

              Why yes, and it was a prototype project called Microsoft Surface. (cue dramatic music)

              A friend was hired into the Surface group at MS and worked on this in his first assignment, which didn't last too long as I recall. 2009 may have been the approximate year? I can't find any hits on it with a quick web search because everything returned is about the latter-day Surface.

              1. EddieD

                Re: @ RIBrsiq @Turtle Typo Or Not?

                V2 is now the Samsung Sur40 iirc

          2. RIBrsiq
            Happy

            Re: @ RIBrsiq @Turtle Typo Or Not?

            "Maybe it's time to start".

            I think you have an excellent point. I'll be sure to bring it up in my next discussion with me.

        2. PNGuinn Silver badge
          Go

          "Admittedly, I don't do it on Internet forums... :-)"

          Why ever not?

          This is elReg after all. And its friday.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Typo Or Not?

      I can easily imagine there being such a thing as a "table computer".

      Indeed so: http://www.wired.com/2012/11/kitchen-computer/

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