Monday, February 09, 2009

Why the Ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 was a Success

This week, the crew of US Airways Flight 1549 began a media tour to tell their story of the successful Hudson River ditching, evacuation and ultimate rescue of the 155 people onboard. Appearances included "60 Minutes"(CBS) on Sunday, "The Early Show"(CBS) and "Good Morning America"(ABC) on Monday, "Larry King Live"(CNN) and "The Late Show with David Letterman"(CBS) on Tuesday and "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren"(FOX News - National) on Wednesday. (All dates subject to change - Check local listings).

Since these interviews seem to focus on questions about the crew actions and preparedness, I thought it appropriate to cover some of the more technical characteristics of the Airbus A320 and both the pilot and flight attendant mandatory training programs required by The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA).

Airbus A320 Characteristics & Emergency Operations

FAA regulations consider situations where external influences — such as flocks of birds — may interfere with safe operations. When the FAA certificated the Airbus A320, design and operating procedures considered flight into a flock of birds, crew emergency landing procedures, occupant protection and emergency landings in water.

Engine Bird Ingestion

The A320 involved in the January 15, 2009 emergency landing in the Hudson River was powered by two CFM56-5B4/P engines, which were certified to meet these requirements:

*Flocking Birds — The engine must be able to ingest a flock of birds (five 1.5 lb. birds), not lose more than ¼ of its power and continue to run for five minutes at its takeoff power setting.

*Single Bird — The engine must be able to ingest a single large bird (4 lbs.) and be able to shut down safely. When a large bird is ingested, no continued operation is required.

Airplane Flotation

The A320 was certified for ditching (landing in water), meeting the following requirements:

*The plane must be able to float under reasonable conditions long enough to allow evacuation of passengers.

*The airplane must float in such a way that there are sufficient exits above water.


Airbus elected to certify the A320 to meet the latest requirements for passenger protection during emergency landing, commonly know as the “16g seat requirement.”

Pilot/Flight Attendant Crew Procedures for Emergency Landings

US Airways pilots and crews are required to train for emergency landings, including landings in water.

Flight attendants get initial and recurrent training in ditching procedures, including:

*Cabin preparations

*Raft drills

*Passenger preparations


Pilots receive ditching training at their initial indoctrination with the airline using a case study of a 1970 ditching by a DC-9, then later receive A320-specific instruction during recurrent training. Areas covered include:

*Aircraft “clean-up” (configuration for ditching)

*Communications with air traffic control and cabin crewmembers

*Crew resource management

*Ditching direction, based on wind or calm, swell direction

*Post-ditching procedures, e.g., signaling, survival, first-aid


*Ditching procedures if aircraft is above 10,000 feet — assume crew has time to execute all checklist items.

*Ditching procedures below 10,000 feet — more succinct, covering basic items, i.e., landing gear up, configure aircraft for most lift (including recommended slat configuration for both engines out), ATC/cabin crew communications, systems on and off, post-ditching procedures.

*Procedures for dual-engine failures — assume crew has time to attempt a restart, procedures for restart failure, step-by-step actions to perform at specific altitudes.

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