back to article Typo made Air Asia X flight land at Melbourne instead of Malaysia

Finger trouble with onboard navigation systems led to an Air Asia flight making a two-hour internal hop in Australia before its scheduled journey to Malaysia. An investigation report by the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (ATSB) into the March flight disclosed the cockup, which it said was down to the A330's captain “ …

  1. Snowy Silver badge
    FAIL

    <sighs>

    [quote]An Airbus advisory software patch to the A330's Air Data and Inertial Reference System (ADIRS), designed, amongst other things, to reject manually-input position data if it disagreed with the aircraft's own GPS, had not been applied to the aircraft in the incident.[/quote]

    Makes me wonder what other patches have no been applied.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: <sighs>

      And what happens when the manual data is correct but the GPS output (for whatever reason) is wrong?

      1. S4qFBxkFFg

        Re: <sighs>

        "And what happens when the manual data is correct but the GPS output (for whatever reason) is wrong?"

        If GPS is required, don't take off, call maintenance.

        Otherwise (or if already flying) turn the GPS off (or pull its breaker) and continue as normal using INS/VOR/DME/ADF.

    2. Andy Non

      Re: <sighs>

      They probably haven't got around to applying service pack 2 yet to their Windows XP flight system.

    3. boltar Silver badge

      Re: <sighs>

      "Makes me wonder what other patches have no been applied."

      Makes me wonder how many dangerous bugs are still lying dormant in various avionics control systems, waiting for the combination of events that will trigger them.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: <sighs>

        Ironically the patch was necessary because the original approved design was to assume that the pilot knew best, not that new fangled satellite computer GPS rocket-scientist stuff.

      2. daddyo

        Re: <sighs>

        The shootdown of Korea Air Flight 007 by Soviet aircraft had a likely cause that the starting reference was improperly keyed--fat fingered into its INS. The cure is to build up a data base of known starting lat/long/alt that is protected by check digits. Easy to add to printed Jepp charts, but they are moving to complete electronic tablets, etc.

        Then, have to deal with securing how to get to the "right" starting page.

    4. Will 11

      Re: <sighs>

      >>Makes me wonder what other patches have no been applied.<<

      To be fair, patches may fix existing problems but still introduce new ones. I've been tempted to add "... and many new bugs you've never seen before" to the bottom of our software release notes for a few months now.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow, it's not the incorrect data entry which is the scariest out of all of this, it is the number of ignored issues after it.

    1. Captain Queeg

      I agree AC to a point, but I do think it's comforting that this only lead to inconvenience - seems like the ATC system took this in it's stride and coped with things seamlessly keeping everyone safe.

      Regardless of the size of the cock up, that's pleasing.

  3. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    litteral example of

    GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out.

    Remember kids, data's only as good as the mechanism that entered it (well at least until you hit 32bit integer limits but that's been done before) which often is soft, error prone fleshies.

  4. Alan J. Wylie

    On the subject of typos

    Instead of entering 15109.8 east (i.e. 15˚ 19.8' east)

    That should be 151˚ east

    1. m0rt Silver badge

      Re: On the subject of typos

      "That should be 151˚ east"

      This is why I love El Reg commentards. You guys are the best! :)

    2. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: On the subject of typos

      Whoops, you're right. Moral of the story, don't ever try and manually input these particular co-ords into anything, ever.

      1. LesB

        Re: On the subject of typos

        You should have gone for the Captain Mainwaring response: "I was wondering who'd be the first to spot that..."

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. andy 103

    Why did it need a patch for a fundamental operation?

    The most worrying thing is that a patch was issued because the system didn't originally validate the pilot input against the GPS. Seriously, that's a patch? Makes you wonder what else the systems don't actually do which are basic requirements. Something as fundamental as the position of the aircraft has to be validated against *SOMETHING*.

    1. DonL

      Re: Why did it need a patch for a fundamental operation?

      "Something as fundamental as the position of the aircraft has to be validated against *SOMETHING*."

      There's probably a good reason, but why does the pilot need to enter it manually if they have GPS? If it's for validation, then why not just verify it instead of entering it?

      Just curious :)

  7. ThisPlaceInTime

    Perhaps another carrier for me

    The crew cancelled a ground proximity warning, ignored a system status warning and did not respond to various other alarms or anomalies.

    I don't think I'll be including this airline in my future travel plans.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perhaps another carrier for me

      Yeah, sounds like their only requirement for continuing the flight was "it's still in the air nose up".

    2. Tikimon Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Perhaps another carrier for me

      This is why there's still a meatsack pilot at the controls. Sometimes the computer is wrong, and a human pilot falls back on their training and experience. Come on, we all work in IT. Do you want them to turn back for every computer error, even if they have determined it to be erroneous or non-critical? I still trust the meat pilots more than the metal ones.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Perhaps another carrier for me

        But this time the computer was right and the meatsack behaved like a proper luser - dismissed an alarm without even checking what it was (let alone whether it was right), and before commencing take-off so in principle all the time in the world to work through the problem. That's the sort of behaviour you expect of your elderly aunt ("the computer said something, I clicked OK and it went away, no sorry dearie I didn't read what it said"), not what you should expect of a pilot.

    3. Paul Kinsler

      Re: The crew cancelled a ground proximity warning,

      They might consider themselves lucky they got to cancel it.

      I recall that the ground proximity warning was the last thing that the pilots of Air NZ flight 901 that crashed into Mt Erebus heard. That was the result of a coordinate input error also, if I recall correctly (albeit a somewhat more complicated one).

  8. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

    The highlight of the trip for me

    was the adverts for cheap flights to the orient that accompanied the article. It's technology wot caused the bother. 50 years ago they would happily have navigated to their far-off destination with the help of: looking out the window; and, a wristwatch.

  9. Herby Silver badge

    To err is human...

    To really foul things up, you need a computer.

    Truer words in this case. Then again, the software should have figured out that the discrepancy that large might be an error, and try to resolve it. Maybe use a smart phone app to get bearings correct.

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: To err is human...

      I really hate that 'saying' about computers. The pilot made the mistake, the computer tried to warn him. Several times.

  10. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    Damn instrument weenies

    I hate how reliant on the avionics modern pilots have gotten. We live in an age were people trust the computer without understanding what the computer is actually doing. I'm not saying that the instruments are bad, they are very useful and make flying much safer and allow pilots to rest and save their mental energy for emergencies; I just mean that they should never trust a computer to do something they can;t do by themselves.

    I am an amateur pilot, been doing it as a hobby for several years now. The most useful course I've ever taken, and something that really should be required for all private / commercial pilots to undergo would be to do a flight between two unfamiliar airports using only a set of crude charts (Accurate location of all landmarks and obstacles, waypoints, and airports; but missing a lot of useful, but non-essential data), a compass, an altimeter, an air-speed gauge, and a wristwatch. The instructor would have access to all instruments and control the radio. Pilots need to be able to do their job safely and efficiently in the worst-case scenarios, especially if the entire electrical system fails. Or at the very least, be able to identify when the avionics are lying.

    A monkey could operate a modern aircraft, especially with modern avionics systems and auto-pilot systems intelligent enough to land a plane without a pilot behind the stick. With these new advances, a pilot's job has been shifted from flying the plane to identifying when things go wrong and know how to fix any situation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Damn instrument weenies

      Am not sure were you live but at the pilot training school down the road you have to do exactly that. Fly in a plane with completely blacked out windows and make it to your destination on instruments only. I believe it is obligatory for any commercial license.

      There is an instructor of course who does have access to everything - just in case you misread your map ....

      1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: Damn instrument weenies

        Yeah, I had to do that too. What I mentioned was flying -without- instruments other than the bare basics (and the most basics versions of those at that). No EFIS, no ILS, no TCAS, not even fuel and engine readouts. So basic that even Charles Lindbergh would call it spartan.

        I learned just how difficult landing a B190 could be by just eyeballing the approach...

      2. Small Furry Animal

        Re: Damn instrument weenies

        'Am not sure were you live but at the pilot training school down the road you have to do exactly that. Fly in a plane with completely blacked out windows and make it to your destination on instruments only. I believe it is obligatory for any commercial license.'

        Well, not blacked out windows; otherwise the instructor would also have no view. However. essentially you're right.

    2. Magani
      Happy

      Re: Damn instrument weenies

      "A monkey could operate a modern aircraft, ..."

      Cue oblig aviation story:-

      The plane of the future will have a pilot and a dog in the cockpit. The pilot is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to make sure the pilot doesn't touch anything.

      Back on topic - big kudos to the guys and gals in YSSY and YMML who vectored and nursed the downgraded Airbus all the way to a satisfactory outcome.

    3. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: Damn instrument weenies

      It only needs the pilot once a day... But the main reason we still have fleshies is that they can adapt to situations outside of set parameters without going insane.

      That's not to say they're perfect, far from it but currently we don't have computers that can react well enough to situations over which they haven't been programmed to some degree for. Once that happens then maybe we'll get rid of the fleshies but I don't see this happening for at least another couple of decades.

      On the other hand, fine. Ignore the first warning but after the second warning surly it might be an idea to check if there's something amiss? Just maybe?

  11. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Surprised nobody has cross-referenced this glitch with this one:-

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/08/21/microsoft_cant_tell_north_from_south_on_bing_maps/

  12. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Airbus software

    Sigh...

    In countries where staff often drink wine at lunchtime, they should not be allowed to code in the afternoon.

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: Airbus software

      If they can maintain the Ballmer Peak, I'd prefer them to code after lunch rather than before...

      https://xkcd.com/323/

      But I do tend to avoid Airbus planes anyway (What kind of idiot replaces a proper control column with a cheap joystick? Its a $100-500 million dollar aircraft, not a fucking arcade console)

      1. bep

        Re: Airbus software

        I understand what you're saying, but I also have heard that if the Airbus had actually obeyed all the pilot's inputs, then the impact with the Hudson River would have been significantly more dramatic, if the plane had got that far.

      2. Reinhard Schu

        Re: Airbus software

        Trotting out the old Boeing cheerleader nonsense. The side stick makes the cockpit much cleaner, giving the pilots a clear and unobstructed view of the instrument panel. See this picture for an illustration: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a4/Airbus_A380_cockpit.jpg/220px-Airbus_A380_cockpit.jpg

        How exactly is a "control column" (I suppose you mean yoke) more "proper" than a side stick?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Airbus software

          Because it's very hard to make an exciting Hollywood movie where a heroic pilot struggles manfully with a gameboy controller.

          I assume that the new movie of Mr Scully's water landing will change the aircraft from a fly-by-wire Airbus to a DC3 to add the necessary excitement.

        2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

          Re: Airbus software

          " more "proper" than a side stick? "

          A Yoke (Its labeled 'Control Column' in the manual for my bird) can operated by either hand, rather than just the one, allowing the pilot a much wider range of of movement; the pilot can operate it while using a wrist brace (Recovering from wrist surgery or just suffers from carpal tunnel) or if their wrist seizes up due to overuse (A 6 hour flight would do that). It can also withstand much more wear before experiencing failure.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hang on...

    "and so they were diverted to Melbourne Airport, 390 miles away,"

    390 miles? I thought Melbourne was up near near Japan??

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Hang on...

      But Japan is now just outside Sydney

  14. channel extended

    Sense of direction...

    The pilot didn't know where he was but he knew where he was going. ;)

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Sense of direction...

      That's what used to be said about INS, the pilot may not know where he is but at least he knows where he started from.

  15. Black Betty

    Systems should not be allowed to contradict each other without mediation.

    GPS may not be mandatory in aircraft, but when it is present, then it damned well should be fully integrated into the navigation system, not stuck to the fucking windscreen with a suction cup. <Hyperbole alert.>

    Look at what happened here, an easily made fuckup in data entry in one place caused another system to scream blue murder because it thought there was 11,000 km of rock and soil in the direction it was being told to go. The crew misread this as a malfunctioning alarm, which they disabled and ignored, leading to a cascade of other problems, that made it impossible to trust their navigation system.

    Maybe this triggered an obscure bug, which left the plane thinking it was flying inverted into terrain somewhere South of the Azores instead of carrying out a textbook takeoff rotation in Sydney.

    Here's a thought. Why does the electronic cockpit try so hard to emulate antique analog instrumentation? Why should the pilot or his first officer have to hunt through a sea of indicators for a reason when an alarm chimes? Shouldn't the reason for the alarm be presented front and centre on the main screen?

    Even if enough older aircraft exist to warrant sticking to some sort of legacy layout for the time being, eye tracking tech could be used to "blow up" readouts in the direction of the pilot's gaze.

    1. Reinhard Schu

      Re: Systems should not be allowed to contradict each other without mediation.

      > Why should the pilot or his first officer have to hunt through a sea of indicators

      > for a reason when an alarm chimes? Shouldn't the reason for the alarm be

      > presented front and centre on the main screen?

      You have just described the ECAM system in Airbus aircraft. But as the article stated, the ECAM did not display any error message, despite warning chimes being sounded. Sounds like another bug to me, and I wonder if Airbus are looking into that one.

  16. Reinhard Schu
    FAIL

    Emirates Flight 407

    This incident reminds me of Emirates flight 407, which very narrowly escaped disaster after one of the flight crew keyed in the take off weight incorrectly.

    It seems staggering to me that there seems to be no clearly established 4-eyes principle for manual data entry, nor proper plausibility checking of keyed-in data by aircraft systems.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    typos and aircraft

    I have mused on a crazy idea about the loss of Malaysian Airlines MH370 heading to Beijing (code PEK).

    Could somebody have made that PRK (Prieska, South Africa) as R and E are next to each other on a keyboard? It might explain where wreckage was found.

    Anon: it sounds too stupid to be true.

    1. GavinC

      Re: typos and aircraft

      Only travel agents use three letter codes, pilots use 4 letter codes - (Beijing - ZBAA, Prieska - FAPK). Interesting theory though.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: pilots use 4 letter codes

        Is Melbourne known as IIRC by any remote chance?

  18. JJKing Silver badge
    Happy

    Makes me wonder what other patches have no been applied.

    Patches.....we don't need no stinking patches!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Upvoted because that meme hasn't been used in ages ;round these here parts.

      As for the Pilot, was he Cornish by any chance? Oh no, oid not be startin' from 'ere if oi be going there.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New link to full report

    Updated link to full report - which was amended on the 9/9/16

    http://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/investigation_reports/2015/aair/ao-2015-029/

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