Air France Crew Fought Each Other For Control Say Investigators


French authorities say a much-discussed “loss-of-control” incident reported by an Air France crew last month was a case of the left seat not knowing what the right seat was doing. AF011 was on final for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on a flight from JFK when panicked pilots told air traffic control that they’d lost control of the Boeing. A preliminary report from the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses says both pilots had their hands on the yoke during the sequence and that at times they were pushing and pulling in opposite directions. The pilots went around and sorted it out in time for an uneventful second attempt. Part of the struggle made it to the radio and the exchange was widely distributed.

The first officer was the pilot flying and after switching off the autopilot he made some manual inputs that the aircraft obeyed. After some pitch and bank deviations, it appears the captain grabbed the yoke and each pilot had a different idea of what needed to be done. “The control columns were then desynchronized for 14 seconds due to opposing forces,” the report said. “The captain held the control column in a slightly nose-down position while the co-pilot made several, more pronounced, nose-up inputs. Two brief episodes of wheel desynchronization were also observed.” The pilots apparently fought each other for almost a minute before the captain became the pilot flying and the plane was configured for the go-around. He gave the airplane back to the FO and the landing went ahead as normal. “No failure warning was activated during the occurrence,” the report concluded. “No anomaly was observed on the aeroplane.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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    • We can learn from a negative example that thankfully did not result in harm to anyone!

  1. “desynchronizations of the control channels” – ? Has the B777 gone the route of fly-by-wire that results in control columns and pedals that are not physically connected in the cockpit? If Boeing airliner pilots are no longer seeing the same movement responses in the visible controls at all times, I ain’t never gonna ride the airlines again. I gave up riding Airbuses years ago, after leaning about the jet fighter totally digital stick control in them. On the other hand, if the pilot & co-pilot controls are still physically connected, and this report amounts to pilot and co-pilot simply triggering warning lights, bells and whistles responding to differing torque sensors, that is something else.

    • No – Boeing controls are still physically connected to each other. Move one, the other moves, too.

      Unless one control is jammed. Then the other control can be forced past a spring-loaded ‘breakaway’ connection. When the controls get in sync the mechanism will reconnect again.

  2. A good number of the accidents/incidents we read about seem to happen because of all the automated systems, which are supposed to make tings safer. Like this one, the pilot flying being discombobulated by an irrelevant weaather warning. And why are 2 autopilots necessary?

  3. I can’t help but wonder about basic who has control communications. If the first officer was pic during the landing phase, why did the captain take control and not announce “I have control!” so the fo can acknowledge and release control? Is this an example of poor cockpit communications?

  4. As someone who strives to make things Ergonomic (optimize the man-machine interface) I often wonder how some of these systems become certified.

    A long time ago I flew a Bonanza with a factory AutoPilot. Apparently the way that the A/P worked was that it had control of a trim tab on the elevator. Whichever way it worked, the bottom line was that if you tried to “help” the A/P – say, to capture altitude quicker or to recover from turbulence quicker – the Autopilot would do the opposite, and you could quickly get a very dangerous out-of-trim situation.

    No one checked me out on this. I remember feeling it right away in the yoke, and quickly Disconnected the A/P. Later I found a note about it in the POH, warning the pilot to not help the A/P because it would cause the A/P to compensate by opposing the pilot’s input.

    I’ll take the blame for not knowing everything about the flight. Still, it seems to me that some of this technology is an accident waiting to happen. One reason that I never let an A/P fly the Glide Slope in IMC.

  5. Oh bleep!

    Another disconnected airline crew.

    Shameful for French, who decades ago had it down pat – Air Inter flew Caravelles to very low minima with strict split of duties between pilots and clear communication.

    One pilot’s mission was to fly to DH and go around.
    The other pilot’s mission was to watch out the windows and land if appropriate – saying clearly to the other pilot that s/he was taking control.
    If could see before DH good, otherwise ‘Too late Pierre’ the other pilot still had control and was doing its job of going missed approach.

  6. On the subject of air investigations, has anyone seen any more information about the Air China crash? The last I saw was that both recorders were damaged beyond recovery, which is pretty suspicious.

    • Also, one would presume the fact Air China returned the type to service within their fleet very early in the investigation meant they had already concluded the cause was not aircraft-related.