About That Air France Flight Where Pilots Lost Control…

About That Air France Flight Where Pilots Lost Control…

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A few weeks ago there was a serious incident onboard an Air France Boeing 777, where the pilots claimed that the flight controls weren’t working correctly. This was understandably classified as a serious incident, so a thorough investigation is being performed. So far the findings aren’t what you might have expected.

The basics of an Air France 777’s scary go around

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Air France flight 11 was scheduled to fly from New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG). The flight was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER with the registration code F-GSQJ, and there were 15 crew members and 177 passengers onboard.

The plane was on approach to runway 26L at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, when the pilots reported that the plane wasn’t responding to commands, and started to deviate to the left.

Below you can listen to the communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers, and you can definitely hear how stressed the pilots are, as they seemingly struggle to keep the plane in the sky. Fortunately the flight performed a go around, and landed at the airport without further issues.

What caused Air France 777 flight control issues?

A Boeing 777 suffering flight control issues, especially at a low altitude, is a huge issue. As a result, France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation (BEA) has been performing an investigation. After all, part of what makes aviation so safe is that all serious incidents are investigated, so that they can be avoided in the future.

Well, the findings of this investigation aren’t what you might expect, as it seems like there may have been nothing wrong with the plane. The BEA has released its initial report about the incident, which shares the timeline of what happened:

  • The first officer was flying the plane on approach, and at an altitude of 1,670 feet the autopilot was disconnected for a manual landing
  • The first officer made inputs to the controls for around 15 seconds, and the plane followed the movement of the controls, with minor rolls to each side
  • The first officer then expressed his astonishment at the plane’s bank angle, so he amplified the inputs, and the average position of the wheel was around six degrees to the left, and as a result the plane turned left with a small bank angle
  • The captain expressed his surprise with respect to the deviation from the flight path (which was happening because the inputs the first officer was making), and called for a go-around
  • At this point, the two pilots made simultaneous inputs on the controls in opposite directions, causing the control column to desynchronize due to opposing forces
  • The captain held the control column in a slightly nose-down position, while the first officer made several, more pronounced, nose-up inputs; this caused the pilots to think that there were control issues
  • Even when the plane had a positive rate of climb, the two pilots continued to simultaneously make differing inputs on the controls
  • The investigation so far shows no inconsistencies between the movements of the controls and the movements of the plane

A few thoughts:

  • I’m not sure whether we should be reassured that a 777 didn’t just randomly have flight control issues, if we should be terrified that pilots were providing opposite inputs at the same time, or both
  • The crew resource management here is downright puzzling; suffice it to say that pilots should be communicating with one another, rather than putting in opposite inputs
  • I couldn’t help but be reminded of Air France flight 447 that crashed in 2009; this happened because the aircraft entered a stall, and then one pilot kept making inputs that made the situation worse, without the other pilots knowing that these inputs were being made

Bottom line

A few weeks ago an Air France Boeing 777 on approach to Paris suffered a serious incident, whereby pilots lost control of the aircraft. While it was initially believed that this was due to an issue with the plane, an investigation has revealed that the two pilots were making opposite inputs at the same time, which may have lead to this incident. So far there are no signs of anything being wrong with the aircraft.

This is simultaneously reassuring and scary — you don’t want to think that a 777 can just suddenly lose control, but you also don’t want to think that pilot crew resource management is so bad.

What do you make of this 777 flight control incident?

Conversations (36)
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  1. FlyerDon Guest

    I can see how this could happen. A first officer at best gets to make one approach and landing on a trip like this. On longer flights requiring 3 or 4 pilots, 2 of them never get to shoot an approach and land. It’s easy to have a pilot that has little time in the aircraft and even less time at the controls. It still comes down to the captain acting like a captain but...

    I can see how this could happen. A first officer at best gets to make one approach and landing on a trip like this. On longer flights requiring 3 or 4 pilots, 2 of them never get to shoot an approach and land. It’s easy to have a pilot that has little time in the aircraft and even less time at the controls. It still comes down to the captain acting like a captain but saying “I have the airplane” doesn’t always mean the FO will release the controls. Check out Atlas Air 3591 that crashed a few years ago going into IAH.

  2. Moiz A Guest

    How does this happen on a Boeing aircraft? On an Airbus, you have joysticks but Boeings have massive controls between your legs that are synchronized between both pilots!

  3. Jorge George Paez Guest

    Inputs? Are they pushing buttons?

  4. Alan Guest

    As a 33 year Capt/Check Airman on B767/757 with similar flight control systems to that aircraft. It disturbs me this happened. The training of the FO is obviously lacking and the Capt, possibly. Systems knowledge were obviously lacking in both seats.

  5. glenn t Diamond

    So in the time it took to perform a rescue go-around, was there a heated discussion to sort out who actually was in control?
    The captain and FO should both be grounded and undertake intensive retraining at the very least. Mental competence and temperement should also be evaluated.
    Or fired if there are qualifed candidates waiting for promotion.

  6. Retired pilot Guest

    WTF! This same scenario could have played out tragic like AF447. It boils down to poor flight crew management. When there was an issue, the captain should have said "my aircraft" so that they wouldn't be making opposing flight control inputs. Scary.

  7. Alex Guest

    This is simply ridiculous. These are two people sitting next to each other and they can't communicate?

    And yeah, I see a lot of comments how it's the first lesson to say "my controls" but really you don't even need to take a single flying lesson - I'm sure half of the country knows to say this simply from watching "Sully".

    I do sincerely hope that if the preliminary report is confirmed, both guys get fired.

  8. David Diamond

    Funny thing. Every time I mention my reluctance to fly AF due to their training and history, there are always AF fanboys telling me how all that is in the past and AF is now safe. Sorry but an airlines culture doesn’t change so easily, and more than an “amazing lounge and F experience”, safely getting me to my destination is my top priority.

  9. aireye onu Guest

    Instructor Pilot (I) briefing to student pilot (S) on very first training flight:
    I: When I say "my airplane" or "I have control" or something similar, release the yoke and respond "your airplane" or "YOU have control". Do you understand?
    S: YES SIR!!!

  10. P Fleming Guest

    Sounds like a very good reason to avoid flying with Air France

  11. Jason Say Guest

    Am I the only person who thought this from the beginning? He says Stop stop stop on the audio, why do people assume he's talking to the plane which doesn't comprehend verbal speech and not the person beside him who, you know, DOES???

  12. rjb Guest

    The first officer should have surrender. Surprised he did not given the history.

  13. stogieguy7 Diamond

    Like most of you, I also thought of AF447 upon reading reports about this incident. And AF447 was a nightmare accident and the thoughts of what the poor passengers went through on it are haunting. In that case, and in this one, pilot error is to blame. While AF447 and this incident are more than a decade apart, the fact that the same crew dynamics and apparent discrepancies in skill caused both occurrences is enough...

    Like most of you, I also thought of AF447 upon reading reports about this incident. And AF447 was a nightmare accident and the thoughts of what the poor passengers went through on it are haunting. In that case, and in this one, pilot error is to blame. While AF447 and this incident are more than a decade apart, the fact that the same crew dynamics and apparent discrepancies in skill caused both occurrences is enough to conclude that AF has lackluster crew training and seems to have a number of pilots who aren't good at flying aircraft.

    Yeah, La Primiere may be fab - but personally I'll pass because all of the caviar in the world won't compensate for potentially having to go through what those poor souls on AF447 did.

    1. Juan M Guest

      Judging that the passengers were asleep in 447 and the stall happened at night, noone of them knew what happened.

      Hell, not even Bonin knew he was pulling the stick back.

    2. Dan88 Guest

      Doubt the pax were asleep after the initial stall buffet. That would be hard to sleep through.

  14. Regis Guest

    I find this simply unbelievable. These are not student/rookie pilots flying a regional route on a turboprop; we are talking here about a premium wide-body route right flown by supposedly Air France's most senior and experienced pilots, and they do this? What the hell?

    1. Tony Guest

      I mean Asiana is a major premium airline and their pilots could not perform a visual approach landing in SFO either. An Air Canada flight almost landed on an occupied taxiway at SFO, and im' sure those pilots wern't rookies either. Or an Air Transat flight that ran out of gas over the atlantic because the pilots just ignored the fact fuel was disappearing at an obscene rate. Point being, while many US-based airline pilots...

      I mean Asiana is a major premium airline and their pilots could not perform a visual approach landing in SFO either. An Air Canada flight almost landed on an occupied taxiway at SFO, and im' sure those pilots wern't rookies either. Or an Air Transat flight that ran out of gas over the atlantic because the pilots just ignored the fact fuel was disappearing at an obscene rate. Point being, while many US-based airline pilots have thousands of hours of flight experience, airlines in foreign countries where there aren't many opportunities to be a pilot, the skill level and experience is going to be less and making dumb mistakes like this isn't unheard of.

    2. Paul Guest

      Well, there’s a trail of examples through history where experienced US pilots made stupid and deadly errors! Nothing to do with Nationality mate! Those AF pilots would’ve had many thousands of hours between them.

  15. AA Guest

    My immediate reaction when reading the title was 'which one', and then when reading it, I was also immediately having flashbacks to the report on 447. Thankfully this one ended up with no bodies in the sea.
    I swore to never fly air chance again after reading the findings of 447 anyway, but, aside from the strange inputs by the FO, that this culture and p*ss poor training still exists within AF is worrying.

    My immediate reaction when reading the title was 'which one', and then when reading it, I was also immediately having flashbacks to the report on 447. Thankfully this one ended up with no bodies in the sea.
    I swore to never fly air chance again after reading the findings of 447 anyway, but, aside from the strange inputs by the FO, that this culture and p*ss poor training still exists within AF is worrying.
    Hell....in my very first flying lesson in a cessna, 'I have control' and 'you have control' is drilled into you.
    Basic bloody airmanship.

  16. Dakota breaker Guest

    From my first lesson it was say” I have control “.

  17. Andy Diamond

    In my view (private general aviation pilot here) there were two issues, both related to Crew Resource Management.

    Firstly, a pilot should be familiar with the reactions of the plane to his/her input, even more so in standard situations with no adverse influences. Secondly, and more gravely, there is a standard command to take over the controls, which is "my controls". I learnt that in the first lesson with my instructor when starting my flight...

    In my view (private general aviation pilot here) there were two issues, both related to Crew Resource Management.

    Firstly, a pilot should be familiar with the reactions of the plane to his/her input, even more so in standard situations with no adverse influences. Secondly, and more gravely, there is a standard command to take over the controls, which is "my controls". I learnt that in the first lesson with my instructor when starting my flight training. I'm really (negatively) surprised the captain has forgotten it. Just commanding "go around" does not include a change of controls.

  18. Syd Guest

    Nothing wrong with the 777 (as expected. the plane is as reliable as they come, history is proof), just AF being AF.

  19. Alexf1 Member

    I agree with many of the comments here about poor CRM at AF. It appears that some first officers at AF and perhaps elsewhere want to play heros and unilaterally take action without the Captain's authority or awareness.

    This is frightening as the whole purpose of CRM is that the crew are always on the same page and always following one leader (not 1 captain and 1 wanna-be captain?). Examples of superb CRM are...

    I agree with many of the comments here about poor CRM at AF. It appears that some first officers at AF and perhaps elsewhere want to play heros and unilaterally take action without the Captain's authority or awareness.

    This is frightening as the whole purpose of CRM is that the crew are always on the same page and always following one leader (not 1 captain and 1 wanna-be captain?). Examples of superb CRM are the QF31 A380 incident in Singapore where the Captain's excellent leadership together with his highly effective co-pilots worked together to safely land that injured A380. That despite there being a senior Captain on the flightdeck who was actually reviewing the operating Captain during that flight. Ego and rank were set aside for proper process.

    Doesn't appear that AF's co-pilots have a grasp on ego and rank given this incident and AF447 and perhaps many others we don't know about.

    1. Chris Guest

      I put this squarely on the captain. Also AF for sub-par training. So much automation and so little reinforcement of basic cockpit discipline. Until a pilot states, "My Controls" the other pilot is in charge of the flight controls. Period. Calling a Go Around does not change whom is the pilot flying and the pilot monitoring. As a Captain with 23 years in the cockpit this is an SOP that starts at hour 1 in flight training.

  20. CB Guest

    My first thought was back to that Air France crash in the Atlantic where the FO killed everyone. Was good to see I'm not alone in my thinking.

  21. Phillip Member

    AF447 was my very first thought too!

  22. S Member

    Air France seems to have some issues with their pilots, at least compared to a place like British Airways or Lufthansa. This is very, very basic stuff. A complete failure by the crew. Luckily it didn't end in disaster like 447. That a mistake this simple happened after the disaster of 447 is damning on Air France.

    Top 5 first-class product doesn't mean much when the seat is on fire on the ground.

  23. Stuart Guest

    Serious issue with CRM. It's pretty simple. "I have control of the aircraft." It's a common command and it needs to be emphatic. This is very much like AF 447 in that two pilots were basically countering the others actions. A luckier outcome compared to 447 where they actually succeeded in flying a perfectly good aircraft into the sea.

    Incredible. AF needs to seriously address these issues. You would think given their past they...

    Serious issue with CRM. It's pretty simple. "I have control of the aircraft." It's a common command and it needs to be emphatic. This is very much like AF 447 in that two pilots were basically countering the others actions. A luckier outcome compared to 447 where they actually succeeded in flying a perfectly good aircraft into the sea.

    Incredible. AF needs to seriously address these issues. You would think given their past they would have addressed this. Apparently not. Kudos to the Captain though for recovering the aircraft despite a clearly incompetent F/O.

  24. BenjaminGuttery Member

    Speaking of plane incidents: what happened to the China plane crash? I haven't heard a peep since 3 weeks ago when they found both black boxes.......makes me think something with the pilots, otherwise the airline and country would be screaming to the heavens about Boeing......

    1. Juan M Guest

      The boxes were quite damaged so they were taken to the US for repairs. Now they were sent to China, where they're being studied.

    2. glenn t Diamond

      Will those black boxes ever see the light of day again, one wonders.....

  25. Enough Guest

    you seem disappointed it’s not an issue with Boeing, and grudgingly suggest it may be a problem with obvious pilot error, but still might be a problem with the aircraft, and and we should be great full it might not be a problem with the aircraft. But still might be. Jesus.

    1. Watson Member

      You seem to be reading words that aren't there.

    2. ConcordeBoy Gold

      The fuck kind of reading comprehension brought you to THAT inane conclusion?

    3. foo blah Guest

      Well Boeing does suck, so I’ll agree with you on that.

      But this article did not go there, so not sure what you’re smoking. Can I have some please??

  26. Franklyn Guest

    The fact the pilots were not in sync as to who had command of the plane is an issue irrespective of the plane’s performance.

    If the pilot and first officer cannot agree as to who is in control and/or recognize the rank of one over the other and fight on the controls is a serious cockpit safety issue…full stop.

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ConcordeBoy Gold

The fuck kind of reading comprehension brought you to THAT inane conclusion?

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Watson Member

You seem to be reading words that aren't there.

8
Stuart Guest

Serious issue with CRM. It's pretty simple. "I have control of the aircraft." It's a common command and it needs to be emphatic. This is very much like AF 447 in that two pilots were basically countering the others actions. A luckier outcome compared to 447 where they actually succeeded in flying a perfectly good aircraft into the sea. Incredible. AF needs to seriously address these issues. You would think given their past they would have addressed this. Apparently not. Kudos to the Captain though for recovering the aircraft despite a clearly incompetent F/O.

6
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