Pilot of crashed Turkish Pegasus flight did not understand guidance: report

Reuters
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The Dutch co-pilot of a Pegasus Airlines plane that skidded off the runway killing three passengers at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport last month did not understand guidance in Turkish and failed to brake in time, according to a report seen by Reuters.

The Pegasus plane flying in from the western city of Izmir sped off the end of the wet runway and broke into three pieces after a drop of 30 meters. State media later said the flight’s captain was arrested.

According to a preliminary report seen by Reuters on Thursday, the control tower initially told the pilot to hold off from landing due to harsh weather.

But it said the Dutch co-pilot did not understand the Turkish guidance. It said the tower then allowed the plane to land, but that the pilots did not brake in a timely manner.

Officials from Pegasus were not immediately available to comment on the report.

“When the speed indicator showed 57 knots, speed brakes and thrust reversers were turned off and manual braking was turned back on,” the report said.

“The deceleration when the first manual brake was used at a ground speed of 84 knots was not enough, therefore (the plane) ran off the runway at a speed of 60 knots,” it said.

The report also said that audio recordings from the flight showed the pilots panicked over possible damage after the plane was struck by lightning some six minutes before landing.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Timothy Heritage)

Pilots, flight attendants demand flights to China stop as virus fear mounts worldwide

By Tracy Rucinski and Laurence Frost

CHICAGO/PARIS (Reuters) – Pilots and flight attendants are demanding airlines stop flights to China as health officials declare a global emergency over the rapidly spreading coronavirus, with American Airlines’ pilots filing a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt.

China has reported nearly 10,000 cases and 213 deaths, but the virus has spread to 18 countries, mostly, presumably, by airline passengers.

The United States has advised its citizens not to travel to China, raising its warning to the same level as those for Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. airlines, which have been reducing flights to China this week, were reassessing flying plans as a result, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is possible the White House could opt to take further action to bar flights to China in coming days, but officials stressed that no decision has been made.

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots, cited “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus” in a lawsuit filed in Texas, where the airline is based.

American said it was taking precautions against the virus but had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. On Wednesday, it announced flight cancellations from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai, but is continuing flights from Dallas.

APA President Eric Ferguson urged pilots assigned to U.S.-China flights to decline the assignment. In a statement, the American Airlines’ flight attendants union said they supported the pilots’ lawsuit and called on the company and the U.S. government to “err on the side of caution and halt all flights to and from China.”

Pilots at United Airlines, the largest U.S. airline to China, concerned for their safety will be allowed to drop their trip without pay, according to a Wednesday memo from their union to members.

United announced on Thursday another 332 U.S.-China flight cancellations between February and March 28, though it will continue operating round trip flights from San Francisco to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The American Airlines pilot lawsuit came as an increasing number of airlines stopped their flights to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic.

Other major carriers have kept flying to China, but protective masks and shorter layovers designed to reduce exposure have done little to reassure crews.

‘COUNTDOWN’

A U.S. flight attendant who recently landed from one major Chinese city said a big concern is catching the virus and spreading it to families, or getting quarantined while on a layover.”I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until I went there,” she said on condition of anonymity, describing general paranoia on the return flight, with every passenger wearing a mask.

“Now I feel like I’m on a 14-day countdown.”

Thai Airways is hosing its cabins with disinfectant spray between China flights and allowing crew to wear masks and gloves.

Delta Air Lines is operating fewer flights and offering food deliveries so crew can stay in their hotels. The carrier is also allowing pilots to drop China trips without pay, a memo from its union to members said.

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd and Singapore Airlines are sending additional crew to fly each plane straight back, avoiding overnight stays.

The South Korean carrier also said it was loading protective suits for flight attendants who might need to take care of suspected coronavirus cases in the air.

Airlines in Asia are seeing a big drop in bookings along with forced cancellations because of the coronavirus outbreak, the head of aircraft lessor Avolon Holdings Ltd said, adding the impact could last for some months.

The outbreak poses the biggest epidemic threat to the airline industry since the 2003 SARS crisis, which led to a 45% plunge in passenger demand in Asia at its peak in April of that year, analysts said.

Fitch Ratings said airlines with more moderate exposure to China and the Asia-Pacific region were likely to be able to re-deploy capacity to alternative routes to mitigate the effect on traffic, but that could increase competition on those routes and reduce airfares.

Air France, which maintained China flights throughout the SARS epidemic, suspended its Beijing and Shanghai flights on Thursday after cabin crews demanded an immediate halt.

“When the staff see that other airlines have stopped flying there, their reaction is ‘Why are we still going?’,” said Flore Arrighi, president of UNAC, one of the airline’s four main flight attendants’ unions.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski, Laurence Frost and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal, Aradhana Aravindan, John Geddie and Anshuman Daga in Singapore, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok, Caroline Pailliez in Paris, Josephine Mason in London, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Writing by Jamie Freed and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker)

Exclusive: Cockpit voice recorder of doomed Lion Air jet depicts pilots’ frantic search for fix – sources

FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) official examines a turbine engine from the Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo

By Cindy Silviana, Jamie Freed and Tim Hepher

JAKARTA/SINGAPORE/PARIS (Reuters) – The pilots of a doomed Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX scoured a handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downwards, but ran out of time before it hit the water, three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents said.

The investigation into the crash, which killed all 189 people on board in October, has taken on new relevance as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the model last week after a second deadly accident in Ethiopia.

Investigators examining the Indonesian crash are considering how a computer ordered the plane to dive in response to data from a faulty sensor and whether the pilots had enough training to respond appropriately to the emergency, among other factors.

It is the first time the voice recorder contents from the Lion Air flight have been made public. The three sources discussed them on condition of anonymity.

Reuters did not have access to the recording or transcript.

A Lion Air spokesman said all data and information had been given to investigators and declined to comment further.

The captain was at the controls of Lion Air flight JT610 when the nearly new jet took off from Jakarta, and the first officer was handling the radio, according to a preliminary report issued in November.

Just two minutes into the flight, the first officer reported a “flight control problem” to air traffic control and said the pilots intended to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet, the November report said.

The first officer did not specify the problem, but one source said airspeed was mentioned on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said an indicator showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.

The captain asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook, which contains checklists for abnormal events, the first source said.

For the next nine minutes, the jet warned pilots it was in a stall and pushed the nose down in response, the report showed. A stall is when the airflow over a plane’s wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.

The captain fought to climb, but the computer, still incorrectly sensing a stall, continued to push the nose down using the plane’s trim system. Normally, trim adjusts an aircraft’s control surfaces to ensure it flies straight and level.

“They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the third source said. “They thought only about airspeed and altitude. That was the only thing they talked about.”

Boeing Co declined to comment on Wednesday because the investigation was ongoing.

The manufacturer has said there is a documented procedure to handle the situation. A different crew on the same plane the evening before encountered the same problem but solved it after running through three checklists, according to the November report.

But they did not pass on all of the information about the problems they encountered to the next crew, the report said.

The pilots of JT610 remained calm for most of the flight, the three sources said. Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.

About one minute before the plane disappeared from radar, the captain asked air traffic control to clear other traffic below 3,000 feet and requested an altitude of “five thou”, or 5,000 feet, which was approved, the preliminary report said.

As the 31-year-old captain tried in vain to find the right procedure in the handbook, the 41-year-old first officer was unable to control the plane, two of the sources said.

The flight data recorder shows the final control column inputs from the first officer were weaker than the ones made earlier by the captain.

“It is like a test where there are 100 questions and when the time is up you have only answered 75,” the third source said. “So you panic. It is a time-out condition.”

The Indian-born captain was silent at the end, all three sources said, while the Indonesian first officer said “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is greatest”, a common Arabic phrase in the majority-Muslim country that can be used to express excitement, shock, praise or distress.

The plane then hit the water, killing all 189 people on board.

French air accident investigation agency BEA said on Tuesday the flight data recorder in the Ethiopian crash that killed 157 people showed “clear similarities” to the Lion Air disaster. Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has been pursuing a software upgrade to change how much authority is given to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, a new anti-stall system developed for the 737 MAX.

The cause of the Lion Air crash has not been determined, but the preliminary report mentioned the Boeing system, a faulty, recently replaced sensor and the airline’s maintenance and training.

On the same aircraft the evening before the crash, a captain at Lion Air’s full-service sister carrier, Batik Air, was riding along in the cockpit and solved the similar flight control problems, two of the sources said. His presence on that flight, first reported by Bloomberg, was not disclosed in the preliminary report.

The report also did not include data from the cockpit voice recorder, which was not recovered from the ocean floor until January.

Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesian investigation agency KNKT, said last week the report could be released in July or August as authorities attempted to speed up the inquiry in the wake of the Ethiopian crash.

On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the cockpit voice recorder contents, saying they had not been made public.

(Reporting by Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Jamie Freed in Singapore and Tim Hepher in Paris; writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Rubbish piles up in Paris as pre-euro soccer protests go on

Rubbish piled up on streets in parts of Paris and other French cities on Wednesday as strikes and pickets by waste treatment workers

By Brian Love and Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) – Rubbish piled up on streets in parts of Paris and other French cities on Wednesday as strikes and pickets by waste treatment workers took a toll in the country which hosts the Euro 2016 soccer tournament from Friday.

The protests were part of a wave of demonstrations and work stoppages led by the hardline CGT union against government plans to reform labor law to make hiring and firing easier and help lower the jobless rate from 10 percent.

Police removed blockades at some of the major incineration and rubbish collection depots around the capital but to little effect because workers inside the premises subsequently walked off work, the CGT said.

Despite signs that broader strike action is running out of steam, train services were disrupted for the eighth day running.

The SNCF state railway company said less than 10 percent of workers were on strike, considerably fewer than last week, with three out of four high-speed TGV trains running and six out of 10 slower inter-city connections.

Working to defuse the conflict, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament the state could take over all or part of an SNCF debt of 50 billion euros ($57 billion), possibly hiving it off into a sinking fund to be paid down gradually.

The CGT was holding workplace meetings to decide whether to call off the rail strike.

As millions of foreign visitors and soccer fans prepared for the month-long tournament that kicks off on Friday evening, CGT activists also disrupted a pre-championship publicity event at Paris’s Gare du Nord train station.

About 200 protesters mobbed the station as a locomotive carrying the Euro soccer trophy arrived, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Riot police protected the trophy.

Separately, the minister in charge of drafting the contested labor law, Myriam El Khomri, condemned a dawn protest outside her Paris home in which she said about 30 demonstrators yelled hostile statements through a megaphone.

Valls has refused to scrap the labor reform but, on top of the debt pledge, has agreed to protect existing rest and shift time quotas for workers in SNCF reorganization talks.

Pilots at Air France are also planning to strike over pay curbs from June 11 to 14.

“The (rail) strike is incomprehensible and the one planned by pilots is every bit as incomprehensible when France is about to start the Euros,” Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said.

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Paul Taylor)

U.S. Senate backs Arlington burial honor for female pilots

A man pauses at a grave during Memorial Day celebrations at Arlington National Cemetery

ASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted late on Tuesday to allow women pilots from World War Two to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the vast military cemetery just outside Washington.

The unanimous voice vote moved the legislation a step closer to becoming law. It would allow the cremated remains of about 1,000 women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, in the 1940s to be buried there.

The women performed training and transport missions in the United States during the conflict so male pilots could be sent overseas.

Unlike male veterans, however, they cannot be interred at Arlington, the best-known but very crowded U.S. military cemetery, because authorities have insisted their service was not the same as active duty.

The measure must now be sent to the House of Representatives for its approval before it can be sent to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign into law.

It is expected to pass the House easily and it contains only technical differences from legislation the House passed by a vote of 385-0 in March.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Martha McSally, who was the first woman U.S. Air Force pilot to fly combat missions.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by G Crosse)