The story behind the story

Or, why you should always read your instruction manual.

Last November, there was a little notice story on the European wires, about a brand new plane that rather mysteriously crashed while on the ground:

French authorities have launched an investigation into a crash involving an Airbus plane due to be delivered to the United Arab Emirates carrier.

Etihad Airways said none of its staff were involved when the A340-600 crashed into a barrier at Toulouse airport, injuring five people on board.

A spokesman for the airline said those hurt belonged to a firm contracted to test the plane before delivery.

None of them suffered severe injuries. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

In the intervening months, the truth is slowly emerging, so that the cause of the crash is becoming quite clear.  It seems that someone forgot to read the instructions that came with the brand new $80,000,000 plane:

The brand spanking new Airbus 340-600, the largest passenger airplane ever built, sat in its hangar in Toulouse, France without a single hour of airtime.  Enter the Arab flight crew of Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) to conduct pre-delivery tests on the ground, such as engine runups, prior to delivery to Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi.  The date was November 15, 2007.

The ADAT crew taxied the A340-600 to the run-up area. Then they took all four engines to takeoff power with a virtually empty aircraft.  Not having read the run-up manuals, they had no clue just how light an empty A340-600 really is.

The takeoff warning horn was blaring away in the cockpit because they had all 4 engines at full power. The aircraft computers thought they were trying to takeoff but it had not been configured properly (flaps/slats, etc.) Then one of the ADAT crew decided to pull the circuit breaker on the Ground Proximity Sensor to silence the alarm.

Okay, I can’t steal someone else’s punch line.  Go here to find out exactly what happened.  Have a good laugh, and then head to the glove compartment of your car, dig out that unopened driver’s manual, and find out what’s really going on once the engine starts!

Hat tip:  Danny Lemieux

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  • suek

    Yeah, pretty funny…
    We bought a car at one point, and it was my husband’s car to drive. We were at a ranch not far from home, and he asked me to drive home to pick something up. It was a rush rush thing for some reason – I don’t remember what it was about. What I _do_ remember was that I couldn’t get it to go into gear. Automatic shift, and it wouldn’t. Eventually – after what seemed forever, but was probably only a minute or two – I yelled something to my husband about it, and he said “put your foot on the brakes”… Duh. New safety feature. Can’t shift without applying brakes. It’s so standard now that you probably don’t even think about it. But the first time….!!!! Boy did I feel stupid! So yeah. Read the directions. Or at least _ask_!!

    That’s an interesting site, by the way. I’ve run across it before, but the idea of having to join to be graced by his all-knowing wisdom is a bit repellent. Still, this article is right on point:
    so maybe……..

  • Ymarsakar

    Inshallah, Book. IT is as God Wills and God Willed the Plane to Crash.

    The French are so used to subsidization of Airbus, that they brought in a subsidized Arab crew as well. Subsidized by Inshallah that is.

  • socratease

    I’m having a hard time verifying some of the critical aspects of the story. It’s clear from reports of the injured that there were Airbus personnel on-board during the test, they certainly should have known the run-up procedure, and not to disable the ground proximity system. Other reports claim there was a failure of the brake system. I wonder if we will ever learn the truth, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the ruling Abu Dhabi family paying Airbus a boatload of money to ‘admit’ it was due to a fault in their airplane.

  • David Foster

    These days, pilots usually practice on a simulator prior to actually flying an airliner or other large/sophisticated aircraft. It would be interesting to know if that was done in this case…if not, why not, and if so, why did the simulator training not give them a better sense for the aircraft systems.

    Independent of the performance of this particular crew, it would also be interesting to know if the scenario:

    1)high-power run-up
    2)desire to suppress irritating beep caused by flight control system’s belief that the airplane is in takeoff mode
    3)automatic brake release triggered by FCS’s opinion that airplane is in the air, as a result of pilot’s action to suppress the irritating beep

    …is discussed in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook or the training courses, or indeed if it was ever envisaged by the human factors people at the manufacturer.

  • Alex

    If it’s true this story has been suppressed by the French media, that of course is suspicious. But I can’t believe we have the all the facts here: the sequence of events, as reported, are just too ridiculous to be credible.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I guess you would have to understand the French.

  • Oldflyer

    Well, here is one. Not as expensive or ridiculous, but bizarre.

    In 1991 I was in Brazil demonstrating a British Aerospace Airliner to a Brazilian company. Prince Charles and “the Princess” came to Brazil on a tour, and BAE and the Embassy worked out a deal to use our airplane to haul the press which would follow her around the country. (They didn’t give a damn about him and ignored him when he traveled alone, but that is another story)

    We were about to depart from Brasilia to Sao Paulo when we were delayed by a message that an airplane had gone down the hill adjacent to the VIP terminal at Sao Paulo and there was concern about a fuel spill near where the Royals would deplane. Well, we were finally cleard to go, and were delighted when we arrived to see that the plane was one of our competitor’s (Fokker 100) and it was sitting on the side of the hill for the large press contigent to view.

    We later learned that the plane was under tow; but the fellow who was supposed to be in the cockpit to use the aircraft brakes in event of an irregularity, was actually in the aircraft lavatory when it broke loose from the tractor.

    This was at the Congenehas airport in downtown Sao Paulo. The same one where the bad crash occurred last year when an airplane ran off of the runway and hit a building. The airport sits on top of a hill and has some fairly steep taxi ways, and sheer drops at the ends.

    I don’t doubt the story of the AirBus. France has over engineered their airplanes to protect against pilot mistakes–and it obviously can backfire. Nearly all companies require that their mechanics have some training, often in a simulator, before they can do engine starts or taxi. But the world is full of fools.

  • jj

    Sometimes reading the manual doesn’t help. This is a Mercedes-Benz CLR at LeMans in 1999.

    Now – talk about your brilliant engineering! The German geniuses at Mercedes tested the car at race speeds extensively – on a banked track. Banking produces downforce owing to centrifugal force caused by the banking itself – thereby giving the engineers a set of wholly false assumptions about the car’s aerodynamic performance at speed.

    Now – these were GERMAN engineers and designers, often considered to be the best in the world. Wouldn’t you think, in months of testing, it might have occurred to one of them to say: “wait a minute, don’t you think we should do at least one run on a normal road?”


  • jj

    Oh, by the way, it should be noted the driver was fine. Undoubtedly surprised – but fine.

    “By ze vay, Fritz, ve haff ze slight aerodynamical problem, hein?”

  • Bookworm

    Thank God, jj, that the driver was aerodynamic. That’s an amazing piece of footage.

  • expat

    I sometimes think German engineers design products for other engineers. I’ve had problems with simple household items that were too complicated for daily use. Just yesterday I saw a report on tests for the newest car feature: computer-guided self-parking. That should be a big seller in France, where the people don’t use parking brakes so that other parkers can bump the car forward or backward to create a new space.

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