Boeing Issues Safety Advisory After LATAM Airlines Incident

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On Friday, Boeing issued a safety advisory asking airlines to inspect pilot seat switches on the 787 Dreamliner aircraft following a recent LATAM Airlines incident in which a sudden plunge injured some 50 crew members and passengers.

Boeing described the advisory as “precautionary” noting that airlines carry out the inspection during scheduled maintenance checks on the 787. According to the Washington Post, the inspection involves checking to see whether part of the seat switches have worked loose. Under certain circumstances the safety cap over a loose switch can jam it “resulting in unintended seat movement.” The seat can move forward enough to force the occupant’s body up against the yoke, resulting in the aircraft pitching down. United Airlines and American Airlines are the two main U.S. operators of the Dreamliner with fleets of 71 and 59, respectively.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, a stewardess serving a meal in the cockpit inadvertently hit a switch on the back of the seat pushing the pilot into the controls on the aircraft. The WSJ said the information was sourced from anonymous U.S. industry officials briefed on initial investigation findings.

Chile’s aviation authority has sent investigators to New Zealand to lead the investigation on the LATAM Airlines incident. As of now, no findings have been released.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

29 COMMENTS

  1. If you want to be a passenger
    Climb aboard with me
    We’re leaving now
    Step outside and see another world
    Only if you want to be a passenger

  2. “Flight attendant may have inadvertently triggered a seat switch that pushed the pilot into the controls during flight to New Zealand, industry officials say…” (Boeing; investigating the incident) Colombo: Oh, just one more thing!

  3. “a stewardess serving a meal in the cockpit inadvertently hit a switch on the back of the seat pushing the pilot into the controls on the aircraft.”

    I didn’t fly the 787, but I flew the 75. 76, and 777, the seat switches on the captain’s seat are on the lower right side, below the seat cushion (fwd, back, and up, down), there are guards on either side of the switches. The copilot’s seat is the reverse of that. There are no switches on the back of the seat on those three Boeings.

    • I flew the 787 for 6 years never had a problem with the seat switches. Of course there can be failures, but the seat does not move that fast. And yes there are guarded switches on the back of the seats below the headrests.

  4. Watch Juan Browne’s video posted yesterday to see an example of runaway seat movement when the cover is closed on the seatback switch. If that’s what happened, it implies the captain out and out lied to the passenger when he attributed the incident to “the screens [going] blank”.

      • It’s only irrelevant as to what actually happened. It’s very relevant to his truthfulness past/present/future and any derailing of the nascent investigation.

  5. Assuming this is true: Just how fast does the seat move? Can’t be that fast. The pilot must have been asleep, morbidly obese, or physically disabled if he/she could not have gotten out of the way of the yoke.
    Or stupid… use the reachable buttons to counteract the forward movement.
    They were in level cruise flight being fed. Hardly a work overload situation.

    • I agree, Mike. Having flown three Boeings with the same seat switch, this explanation seems hinkey.

      • Hinkey? That takes “understatement of the Internet” for today.

        ” Under certain circumstances the safety cap over a loose switch can jam it “resulting in unintended seat movement.” The seat can move forward enough to force the occupant’s body up against the yoke, resulting in the aircraft pitching down.”

        A total of 130 planes in the US and all the years of it flying and this is the first time it happens? As another pointed out, how fast does this seat move? My electronic car seat, when I want to move it forward takes a bit of time to move to where I want. If it started to move accidently I would have plenty of time to reach the button and stop it.

        I would rather hear from an official investigation body that has access to the FDR and can determine how much and how fast pressure was put on the control. To drop a plane that hard and fast, it would have had to be a very quick action. The pilot’s alleged demeaner and statement later would be more acceptable than anything from Boeing right now.

      • How do you know they are the same seat switches? In my current company, we have five different styles of switches on our 767s. Three of them are electrical, and the three of them are different.

  6. The 787 has a rocker switch for forward/backward seat movement under a protective cover as seen in the photo, below the headrest. Boeing already sent out a bulletin to operators that the switch can become dislodged below that cover, and activated by just touching the cover, slowly propelling the seat forward, thus the occupant moves forward. I can only assume the pilot’s contact with the yoke disengages the AP and the forward yoke movement pushes the aircraft nose down suddenly. Just speculation.

  7. Over my almost 5 decades as a practicing lawyer, I heard many ways that clients described the unlikely or impossible to excuse events or their behavior, and I learned many ways to respond. Of course, some of those responses cost me clients, but most got the point across so that we both didn’t look like fools in court. There were kind terms, like malarkey, balderdash, baloney, “doesn’t pass the smell test”, and not so kind terms, like BS, “load of crap”, bald-faced lie. I’m not sure where this silliness about the seat switch causing so much movement that the yoke was shoved forward fits into the terms I used, but I’m inclined to think it’s one of the not so kind terms.

    Parenthetically, I don’t doubt at all that the seat switch could be inadvertently activated. But that inadvertent activation could lead to a violent nose dive—that I don’t believe for even a second.

    • According to one video, the pilots eat off a tray on their laps. The tray could form the missing link between the pilot’s belly and the stick holding the yoke.

      I wonder if someone has tried pressing the side switch while the rear switch was depressed.

  8. I flew the 787 for six years and I can all but guarantee you this explanation is a load of CRAP !
    This is the kind of explanation you would offer when something “else” was going on.

  9. Anybody with enough experience in aviation knows or should know that everything is possible. Because it didn’t happen to you, it doesn’t mean it cannot occur.

    I did have a runaway seat on an Airbus 320 on final approach, and I wasn’t moving the seat; nobody touched the switch; it just happened. While the seat doesn’t move very fast, it does move, and when you are first startled by surprise and simultaneously can’t initially stop the movement, the result is that by the time you finally react, the seat is already all the way forward. Luckily, the A320 has a sidestick. Maintenance couldn’t reproduce the I cider t or find something wrong with the switch.

    While I have never flown the 787, I do fly the 767, and in my company, we have five different seat configurations, three of them electrical and three different styles of switches. I don’t know if that is the case with the 787, but it could be that their seats have a different style of switches.

    And if Boeing produced a bulletin related to this incident, it is because they know what happened. It would be interesting to see the bulletin instead of internet opinions.

  10. “While I have never flown the 787, I do fly the 767, and in my company, we have five different seat configurations, three of them electrical and three different styles of switches. I don’t know if that is the case with the 787, but it could be that their seats have a different style of switches.

    And if Boeing produced a bulletin related to this incident, it is because they know what happened. It would be interesting to see the bulletin instead of internet opinions.”
    =================================================
    The Director of the Federal Register approved the incorporation by reference of a certain
    publication listed in this AD as of October 31, 2016.

    SUMMARY: We are adopting a new airworthiness directive (AD) for certain The Boeing Company
    Model 787-8 airplanes. This AD was prompted by a report of uncommanded movement by a
    captain’s seat during a landing rollout due to a failure in the seat horizontal actuator. This AD requires
    repetitive tests of the captain and first officer seat assemblies for proper operation, and corrective
    action if necessary. This AD also requires installation of new captain and first officer seat assemblies,
    which terminates the repetitive tests. We are issuing this AD to prevent a seat actuator clutch failure,
    which could result in a loss of seat locking and uncommanded motion of the captain’s or first officer’s
    seat; uncommanded seat movement could result in reduced controllability of the airplane.
    DATES: This AD is effective October 31, 2016.
    The Director of the Federal Register approved the incorporation by reference of a certain
    publication listed in this AD as of October 31, 2016.
    DATES: This AD is effective October 31, 2016.
    The Director of the Federal Register approved the incorporation by reference of a certain
    publication listed in this AD as of October 31, 2016.
    ADDRESSES: For service information identified in this AD, contact Boeing Commercial Airplanes,
    Attention: Data & Services Management, P.O. Box 3707, MC 2H-65, Seattle, WA 98124-2207;
    telephone: 206-544-5000, extension 1; fax: 206-766-5680

  11. Apparently through SB’s and AD’s dating back to 2016, Boeing knew of uncommanded movement of the flight deck seats.
    As stated above by others, I suspect the CA had a tray of food and beverage in front of him between the yoke and his chest which he did not want to see spilled all over himself and the instruments and his actions OR non actions, led to the yoke full forward /AP disconnect incident occurring.

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