French aircraft accident investigators have opened a probe into what has been described as a ‘serious incident’ involving an Air France operated Boeing 777-300 passenger plane that allegedly stopped reacting to the commands of the two pilots as it came into land at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Tuesday.
The Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses or BEA as it is more often known said on its official Twitter account that a safety investigation was now underway due to the ‘instability of flight controls’ of the 17-year-old aircraft.
The BEA will also be looking at the ‘hard controls’ and ‘flight path oscillations’ that prompted a go-around at Paris’ main airport yesterday morning.
Air France flight AF11 from New York JFK landed safely on its second attempt after performing a go-around when the aircraft seemingly stopped responding to the commands of the pilots and started to ‘significantly veer left’ on its initial final approach.
One of the pilots can be heard shouting “Stop! Stop!” in a recording between the flight and air traffic control that has been publicly released. The pilot, who sounds distressed in the audio recording, goes on to shout “Stop it!” as various flight control alarms ring in the background.
According to the Aviation Herald, air traffic controllers instructed the crew to discontinue the approach as the plane reached 1,500 feet but the pilots didn’t actually manage to disconnect the autopilot until 1,200 feet and the go-around was only initiated when the aircraft was a mere 1,150 feet above the ground.
By this point, the aircraft had “veered to the left off the localizer” and the pilots told air traffic control that the plane was not following commands.
“The airplane is pretty much going nuts,” one of the pilots tells the controller.
After abandoning the first landing attempt, the pilots managed to perform a successful go around and landed without incident on the second try.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Air France said the pilots of flight AF11 “aborted their landing sequence and performed a go-around due to a technical incident during the approach.”
“The crew mastered the situation and landed the aircraft normally after a second approach. Air France understands and regrets the discomfort felt by customers,” a statement from the airline continued.
The airline added that the go-around procedure is used by all airlines “to guarantee the safety of flights and passengers, which is an absolute necessity for Air France.”
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has so far declined to comment on the incident.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.
How is this not in the news?? This seems like a malfunction whose source needs to be determined immediately. Was it malicious? Accidental? Repeatable? Thank you for writing this article.
I imagine those of that persuasion will be trotting out how 5G caused it and that’s why it’s so dangerous ( despite the French not having a frequency conflict like the US seem to have managed to pull off with neither TelCo’s or the FAA asking each other if the 5G frequency they opted for might interfere with AirOps)
I agree that it does seem quite a worryingly event that needs some serious looking into. I had a quick look as it was typing and it seems that it was fairly widely covered in UK media and on sites such as this ( one would presume if I looked further that the French themselves covered it!)
I can sort of understand why Boeing declined to issue any statement at such an early point. Especially as I can imagine it caused a fairly widespread ‘brown pants’ moment for them when told.
Complete off the cuff thinking here and I normally avoid second guessing such things when it’s this new an event and so little data to go on but what immediately came to mind, from the little we currently know, was maybe an erroneous reading or command path related to the cross wind system. Maybe on approach there was some strong winds / gusts and the system that deals with it either responded to a false reading or actioned one well outside the parameters for receiving – processing – actioning. Both would be quite worrying as it appears from the ATC that the pilots genuinely were scared of the, at least perceived, total loss of control at a critical moment and requires the immediate questioning of some pretty grim ‘what if’ s such as ‘failure to regain control’ ‘why despite pilot input did the aircraft not immediately comply’ and many more. Of course as I said my initial thought is nothing more than that and we need to wait for the experts to do their thing and/ or provide a LOT more data points to get an accurate picture.
Simple: the wrong ILS frequency was dialed into the autopilot. It tried to take the aircraft over to a different runway. That’s pilot (operator) error, not an aircraft problem.
But yes, that needs to be considered in the FAA flight board reviews of human factors.
The title is misleading. “……That Stopped Following Commands.” Does this imply the aircraft did not respond to manual control inputs or that auto land was engaged and errors occurred? Reading seems to reveal the automation system of landing went awry then one of the pilots realized this and disconnected automation, used manual controls to abandon the landing and performed a go around to manually land. Perhaps a little more clarity in reporting is needed to lessen confusing this story to readers.
Like the previous posters, I am surprised at how little this event has been publicized. Even the venerable Aviation Safety Network provided only a terse synopsis, quoting: Air France Flight AF011, a Boeing 777-300ER, suffered serious control issues during final approach to runway 26L at Paris-CDG Airport, according to an ATC recording. The flight crew performed a go around and requested to land on runway 27R. A safe landing was made at 08:13 UTC.” If there was an indeed a technical malfunction (as opposed to pilot error), this should be made crystal clear so that this failure more can be designed out.