Last updated: 10:23 AM ET, Fri September 09 2016

Pilot Error Blamed For AirAsia Flight Landing in Wrong Country

Impacting Travel | Patrick Clarke | September 08, 2016

Pilot Error Blamed For AirAsia Flight Landing in Wrong Country

Photo via Wiki Images.  

An investigation conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has determined that pilot error is to blame for an AirAsia flight carrying 212 passengers tracking in the wrong direction following takeoff from Sydney last year.

According to the report released by the ATSB on Wednesday, the March 10, 2015 flight to Kuala Lumpur was ultimately forced to land in Melbourne after a series of mistakes made by the flight crew.

"The ATSB found that when setting up the aircraft's flight management and guidance system, the captain inadvertently entered the wrong longitudinal position of the aircraft," the report states. "This adversely affected the onboard navigation systems however, despite a number of opportunities to identify and correct the error, it was not noticed until after the aircraft became airborne and started tracking in the wrong direction."

The incorrect entry resulted in a positional error of more than 6,835 miles, according to the report, with the plane's navigation system operating as if the aircraft was departing from as far away as Cape Town, South Africa.

Air traffic control noticed a problem shortly after autopilot was switched on and the plane began heading in the wrong direction. The plane flew over the ocean east of Sydney before deciding to return. However rain and low-lying clouds forced the flight to divert to Melbourne where it landed safely roughly two hours after takeoff.

The ATSB credited air traffic control for helping to prevent a potential disaster, concluding "that effective monitoring and assistance by air traffic control reduced the risk to the occurrence aircraft and other aircraft in the area."

The captain of the flight had 22,580 hours of flying experience and manually flew the plane to Melbourne with the help of air traffic controllers. It would depart for Kuala Lumpur without issue several hours later.

"AirAsia X would like to stress that we have in place robust management systems to monitor and prevent similar incidents from reoccurring," the budget carrier said in a statement.

"We also wish to reiterate that we have regularly passed safety and security audits conducted by various international regulators...We remain committed to ensuring our compliance to all safety and security regulations."

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Airbus recommended a system update to the type of aircraft in question as far back as 2013. However, to this point, only about half have carried out the upgrades.

Nonetheless, the ATSB said that the position error made by the pilot in this case only happens about twice per year around the world.


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