A Triumph's Lessons

Fortunately, NTSB spent 15 months investigating the January 2009 ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after the plane hit a flock of Canada geese and lost power in both engines.

Give the National Transportation Safety Board credit: Every review board draws lessons from disasters, but how many analyze a big success and share its lessons with us? Fortunately, NTSB spent 15 months investigating the January 2009 ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after the plane hit a flock of Canada geese and lost power in both engines. NTSB issued 35 recommendations. Among the findings were these:

  • Sixty-four passengers escaped on forward slide/rafts, which aircraft flying that route (New York to Charlotte, N.C.) aren't required to have. This Airbus A320 aircraft did because it "happened to be certified for extended overwater (EOW) operations," NTSB said. Had the passengers entered the 41-degree river, they could have quickly drowned.
  • Most passengers said they had not paid attention to the preflight safety briefing, causing NTSB to recommend "more creative and effective methods of conveying safety information to passengers."
  • Passengers had "significant problems" putting on the life vests stowed under their seats. This event also showed most passengers won't wait 7-8 seconds -- the reported average time to retrieve a life vest -- before they quit and evacuate without a vest.
  • Although most aircraft bird strikes occur within 500 feet of the ground, Flight 1549's strike happened at 2,700 feet. This is important for commercial pilots to know because it demonstrates the unpredictability of bird strikes; the size and number of birds involved also means engine certification tests must be changed, NTSB found.
  • Engine screens or new designs won't protect commercial jetliners' engines, the board concluded, so its recommendations include asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FAA to develop and implement innovative aircraft technologies to make bird strikes less likely.
  • The A320's ditching certification didn't evaluate whether it is possible for pilots to meet Airbus' ditching parameters. In fact, pilots are unlikely to meet them "because it is exceptionally difficult for pilots to meet such precise criteria when no engine power is available, and this difficulty contributed to the fuselage damage." Recommendation 30 to the European Aviation Safety Agency: Require applicants for aircraft certification to demonstrate that their ditching parameters can be attained without engine power by pilots without the use of exceptional skill or strength.

If you want to know more, visit www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2010/AAR1003.htm.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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