Photo: Reuters/Vladimir Pirogov
Investigators should not jump to conclusions
Early reports indicate that 37 people died in the crash of a cargo plane in Kyrgyzstan, citing health ministry officials. ACT Airlines, the operator of the flight that comes under the MyCargoAirlines brand, said that probes are required to establish the cause of the crash. (Source)
Flight TK6491, aircraft Boeing 747-400 (412F[SCD]), registered as TC-MCL, crashed near the end of Runway (RWY) 26 in Dacha-SU, a residential area approximately a mile and a quarter west of Manas International Airport (International Air Transport Association (IATA) identifier FRU; International Civil Aviation Organi[z]ation (ICAO) identifier UCFM); field elevation 2,090 feet.According to ACT Airlines representatives, “[t]he cause of the accident is unknown at this time and further details will be provided as they become available,”.However, upon preliminary findings, the cause of the crash has been ascribed to pilot error, according to Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziyev, who cited evidence of 11 airplanes having landed safely despite the same weather conditions in the past day; He added the plane had attempted to land twice and damaged the landing strip illumination at one stage; “This crew has flow [to Manas airport] 3-4 times. They know the landing strip at Manas airport. The visibility was 400 meters. That is why the flight controller at Kyrgyzaeronavigatsiya gave them clearance to land. The conditions were suitable for landing. So the provisional explanation is that the crash was due to crew error,” Abulgaziyev was quoted as saying by local media.http://www.ibtimes.com/kyrgyzstan-cargo-plane-crash-turkish-airplane-crash-kills-dozens-near-bishkek-2475853To date, it appears that one flight data recorder has been recovered. All types of flight data and performance monitoring recorders and the cockpit voice recorder will most likely be recovered by the investigators.Here, The Deputy Prime Minister’s statements should not be taken to conclude that pilot error was a causal factor, much less the sole causal factor in that tragic crash, nor should his statements be taken to steer the subsequent investigation. Here, root causation could be attributed to several factors, including but not limited to air traffic control error, autoland design or product defect, aircraft design or product defect, maintenance, supervisory error, instrument approach design error, crew resource management error, birdstrike, pilot error, fatigue (this crash occurred over six hours into a long haul flight from Hong Kong to Kyrgyzstan with final destination Istanbul, Turkey).
The Deputy Prime Minister’s statement does lead to several macro-level deductions about this flight.
- Flight TK6491 crew were attempting to land on RWY 26.
- Length x Width: 13465 ft x 180 ft; Surface Type: concrete; TDZ-Elev: 2055 ftLighting: Edge, ALS, Centerline, TDZ
- The visibility was approximately 400 meters, presumably the runway visible range (RVR) was 400m
- Flight TK6491 was on a precision instrument approach to RWY 26
- ICAO (ILS) CATEGORIES —
- ILS Category I — An ILS approach procedure which provides for an approach to a decision height not lower than 60m (200ft) and a visibility not less than 800m (2400ft) or a runway visual range not less than 550m (1800ft).
- ILS Category II (Special authorization required) — An ILS approach procedure which provides for an approach to a decision height lower than 60m (200ft) but not lower than 30m (100ft) and a runway visual range not less than 300m (1000ft) for aircraft categories A, B, C (D with auto landing), and not less than 350m (1200ft) for aircraft category D without auto landing. (Source)
- Flight TK6491 must have been cleared for the ILS Category II approach to RWY 26 because this is the only instrument approach that would be available given visibility of 400 meters
- The aircraft, a Boeing 747, is in ICAO aircraft approach category D—range of final approach speed between 130-185 nautical miles indicated airspeed (KIAS)
- This Boeing 747 could or could not have been equipped with auto-land and still be cleared for the ILS Cat II approach (no auto-land runway visual range 350m by ICAO standards)
- The RWY 26 straight-in CAT 2 ILS approach for an approach category D aircraft has the following parameters:
- Decision height 2155 feet (the altitude where pilots must have the runway environment in sight to continue the approach to a landing), with height above touchdown 100 feet [here 2155 feet is 100 feet above the touchdown zone of RWY 26], which equates to a radio altimeter altitude of 98 feet, and a minimum visibility of 350 meters (runway visual range); with an approach lighting system (ALS)
- Apparently Flight TK6491 crashed on its 3rd attempt to land AND on one of the first two landings, the aircraft damaged the “landing strip illumination”
- This is an important fact because one of the safety requirements for a category II precision instrument approach is very likely an operative approach lighting system. If this aircraft damaged the approach lighting system, rendering it inoperative, then the only available precision approach for RWY 26 is ILS with approach lighting system out
- With ALS out, the minimum visibility requirements jump from 350m (CAT II) up to 1200 meters. If ALS was out and the reported visibility was 400m, then there was no approved instrument approach for which a pilot should have been cleared.
According to Jeppesen’s approach plate publications*:
- The only precision approaches for RWY 26 are instrument landing system approaches (ILS) (the other types of precision approaches are precision approach radar [PAR] and GBAS/GLS [GPS-based])
- The Jeppesen approach plate of 19 Apr 13 identifies the following straight-in approaches to RWY 26.
* This flight publication was current through 4/19/2013
The section above outlines possible issues, but determining root causes here will require extensive investigation, including wreckage inspection(s); non-destructive and destructive testing of critical aircraft components; analysis of air traffic control transcripts and radar; flight data recorders; cockpit voice recorders; air crew autopsies; witness statements; and the list goes on…
US military used this airfield extensively during Operation Enduring Freedom.
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