What Caused Qatar Airways’ “Accident” In Miami?

In September I wrote about the Qatar Airways accident (at least that’s how the FAA categorized it) at Miami Airport. During this incident, a Qatar Airways 777-300ER bound for Doha didn’t take off on time and struck some of the landing lights on the far end of the runway.

Qatar-777

This caused substantial damage (including a 46cm tear in the fuselage and 90 dents and scratches), though as it turns out the pilots didn’t realize they had struck anything, so they continued flying to Doha. It’s extremely fortunate that the plane landed without incident, as things could have ended much worse.

It was quickly revealed that the Qatar Airways pilots made a midfield takeoff, whereby they took off from intersection “T1,” instead of the end of the runway. If you look at the bottom of the diagram below, you’ll see the airport’s south runway, which they took off on. They were taking off into the east, and the first grey box is where they started their takeoff roll (instead of the end of the runway), and then the second grey box is where they ended up hitting the runway lights.

MIA-Airport

While we knew that almost immediately, the big question was why the pilots of a fully loaded 777 decided to do a midfield takeoff?

We now have our answer, as the Qatari Civil Aviation Administration has filed their preliminary findings. And it reads sort of like a script for “Air Crash Investigation” based on the amount of pilot error involved.

As mentioned above, the airplane entered the runway at intersection T1, which meant the runway was ~4,500 feet shorter than the full length. As a result the plane ended up striking the approach light system on the other end of the runway, located ~200 feet past the end of the runway.

But how did it happen? Via Doha News:

According to the report, a shared name – T1 – for the runway intersection and a completely separate reference in the crew’s pre-flight data is at the heart of the incident.

It stated the Qatar Airways flight crew had decided that it would be safe to take off from Intersection T1 on Miami’s Runway 09 because they had become confused by another mention of “T1” in the data given to them before the flight.

This reference, “Runway 09#T1,” actually referred to a temporary performance advisory for the runway, but not to the intersection in question, and the repeated use of “T1” was a coincidence.

The crew had seen this advisory while calculating the runway length required for takeoff, a calculation made using the plane’s onboard computers.

The report noted that during this calculation, the crew “understood” that they must use the full length of the runway, and that they had read information that said that intersection departures were not permissible.

However, as the aircraft was taxiing, the captain apparently decided that the aircraft could depart from the intersection, rather than from the beginning of the runway.

He then asked the first officer (FO) to advise Air Traffic Control of this decision. The report stated that the FO “glanced at his notes” and saw he had written “09/(T1)#” which he said made him believe that this was an acceptable line-up point for take-off.

Wow! Even worse is that there were four pilots in the cockpit — a captain, a first officer, and then a relief captain, and a relief first officer, and they communicated so poorly that this was still able to happen:

The report stated that these two pilots questioned the captain’s decision to take off from the intersection, as it appeared to be different from what they had been briefed on before the flight.

The captain apparently “made a hand gesture” in reply, “and said something which he thought was seeking reassurance from the crew that everything was OK.”

The flight’s first officer replied that he was happy with the decision, the report stated.

Meanwhile, the relief crew misunderstood the captain’s response, thinking that he had just said that he was happy with the decision and that he had most likely recalculated the flight data, so they didn’t press the matter further.

How bad was the damage they discovered upon landing in Doha?

Upon landing, an inspection revealed a 46cm tear in the fuselage behind the rear cargo door.

Data taken from the flight recorders shows that this tear forced the aircraft to compensate (successfully) to prevent a loss of cabin pressure during the flight.

There were also 90 dents and scratches across an 18 square meter area of the plane’s undercarriage, and some damage to a metal guard on the left landing gear.

Bottom line

Something tells me these pilots faced serious disciplinary action, as they should. The fact that they had four pilots in the cockpit yet something like this still happened is quite disturbing.

The worst part is that this mistake should have been incredibly obvious to all the pilots. They were briefed on doing a full length takeoff. Besides, at how many airports does a fully loaded 777 about to embark on a ~13 hour flight do a midfield takeoff? Especially when the midfield takeoff starts ~4,000 feet down the runway?

You know what’s probably the most disturbing part of this incident, though? The airline’s CEO doesn’t think the incident was a big deal.

Apparently Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, was asked about the incident at this morning’s press conference in New York. His response? “Such kinds of incidents happen quite often.”

It’s not very reassuring to know he doesn’t take the incident very seriously…

Comments

  1. It’s refreshing to read the response of the Qatari authorities. By all accounts it seems quite open and transparent. I was half suspecting them to point the blame somewhere else.

    Akbar’s response, on the other hand…

  2. this tear forced the aircraft to compensate (successfully) to prevent a loss of cabin pressure

    The real hero of this story? The 777.

  3. If such incidents happen “quite often” , maybe no one should put their life at risk flying with them.

  4. Come on. If you are going to write about something a week after another blogger wrote about it. Be a decent human being and give them credit when you have completely plagiarized it

    Didn’t see any affiliate links… 🙂

  5. So I assume there are not sensors on the equipment that was hit during take off? With today’s technology there should be but then look at our power grid and traffic control systems and I’m not suprised

  6. My personal problem with places like the UAE and Qatar is that they want us to think that these countries and their companies works just like in any other western nation while it’s simply not true. If this would happen with AA, BA, LH, CX, etc. then they would at least send the pilots for obligatory trainings and would say a huge apologize to all their customers. These “new Arab” cities and companies works fine for western people as long as there is nothing unexpected because then they switch back to their original mindset.

    The CEO’s response makes it obvious that whatever happens with you on their flights, it’s not their problem. I honestly hope that there will be no serious accidents in the future otherwise western people will wake up and realize that UAE and Qatar are still Arab nations an they’re only more modern than other Arab countries in terms of buildings but not in terms of rights and laws.

  7. The reuse of “T1” as both a runway condition indicator and as an intersection on that same runway sounds like the root cause to me. Did the pilots screw up? Sure. Did they have data that was poorly designed and confusing? Sounds like it. Whoever thought reuse of a condition indicator or intersection name was acceptable was an idiot. Aren’t most of these things pretty standard?

  8. What scares me the most is the comment ““Such kinds of incidents happen quite often,” – I don’t want to fly that airline if that is their mentality.

  9. Really, what kind of airline CEO makes such flippant remarks about aviation safety? I hope more news channels pick this up and there is serious damage done to QR’s reputation. However good a first class seat or lounge is can not replace the safety culture.

  10. @ John – I agree and would love to read from Boeing how the safety features they had on the aircraft ameliorated the damage sustained.

  11. @ come on

    It’s not like I am trying to defend Ben, but the report was published on 7th so that blogger could not write about it a week ago.

    And as for the comment by Qatar CEO, come on, the guy is as he is. A bit silly, but overall Qatar is a great airline, and this being a reason not to fly with them is funny.

  12. Rather obviously he was being flippant to try and make people think it was no big deal. That doesn’t REMOTELY mean that the airline views it as such – just like when other CEOs say things like “we really care about our customers” it doesn’t mean the airline does…

  13. While the pilots did a major error, I also question the information that caused the confusion. The runway condition information was confusing, which caused the pilots to misunderstand. Both the source of information and the pilots and their training is to blame here. One can draw comparison to the swiss cheese model for those familiar with it.

  14. @Callum That’s marketing talk. When a CEO is trying to reassure the public after an incident involving them or their product, they don’t say asinine shit like that. It is typical for the CEO, being the figurehead, to publicly apologize and explain what they are doing to prevent similar things from happening again in order to reassure customers. Being flippant makes it sound like they don’t care; if they don’t care about the appearance of safety, I doubt they care very much about ensuring safety.

    @Tom Downplaying safety is certainly not funny. I place my life in a pilot’s hands every time I fly.

  15. It sounds like QR might have a pilot culture like Asiana’s where first officers are afraid to question the captain. What were the nationalities of the pilots?

  16. Captain is Spanish. My friend knows him.

    A serious failure on the part of the pilots. The 777 saved them, frankly.

  17. @Lisa The majority of Qatar’s customers have never heard of this incident, and the few who have and heard this announcement either won’t care, would have reacted badly to anything he said anyway or don’t know the details so just go along with what he says (though people here have interpreted it as “it happens on Qatar all the time”, I’d wager most interpret it as “it happens to planes all the time”.

    Quite frankly, he could have said whatever he wants and nothing would happen.

  18. Lax attitude about safety is an accident waiting to happen. I hope the ceo gets punched in the nose if that happens.

  19. Travelling between 5-7 times a year between Sydney and London, it is important to me and particularly to my family that I get off at the other end. Qantas and CX have the requisite standards that give the pax comfort that they are in safe hands. Being a Qantas FF, it is very reassuring hearing an Australian at the control knowing that they have had the highest quality if training. Same with CX. The Gulf carriers are expanding massively but unless controlled, the quality will suffer somewhere

  20. Qatar airways , emirates , etihad….etc, have at least 10 times higher standards than most of the airlines.

    Take that from a pilot and an aerospace engineer that worked all over places and seen standards !.

    Akbar albaker statement is very normal, people gets scared of flying he must emphisis on the most important fact! That it is still and it will always be safe flying Qatar airways.

  21. Clearly this was caused in large part by a subtle system error which surfaced at just the right times to prepare the, (probably time zone fatigued) crew to accept the error later on while busy thinking about other things. Should they have caught it? Sure. Should others have caught it? Just as surely. Until we quit trying to blame system “gotchas” always on the pilots alone we will not see these sorts of problems fixed.

  22. Clearly this was caused in large part by a subtle system error which surfaced at just the right times to prepare the, (probably time zone fatigued) crew, (probably operating in an unfamiliar taxi route and communicating in a foreign language) to accept the error later on while busy thinking about other things. Should they have caught it? Sure. Should others have caught it? Just as surely. Until we quit trying to blame system “gotchas” always on the pilots alone we will not see these sorts of problems fixed.

  23. If you have operated as a pilot for Qatar Airways then you will understand why this happened and not be surprised in the least. There are Qatari pilots who simply should not be operating large jets. The culture of being recommend to fly by a “local” means that this person being a failure means a loss of face for the person who recommend them. They never lose face!! There are times in the regular simmulator checks where a so called captain takes up the whole 4 hour slot to be taught the basics!! One captain thought that he could accept a higher flight level, offered by ATC, by inputting a zero fuel weight that was 30 tonnes lower. Then the flight management computer would allow a climb. Obviously, if you are a professional pilot you will understand that this puts that aircraft in a very dangerous position. Needless to say that I told him that we would not be doing that!! A major aircraft accident with Qatar is not an “if” – it is a “when”!! They have been lucky so far. However, they do happen but they are covered up in their country. The list of inadequacy for essential skills in a certain group of pilots is shocking. Remember there are a fair number of pilots with exceptional skills but too many without them. It only takes one poor pilot to crash. I left because of the frustration of working for these people. You have to see it to believe but don’t take my word for as there are plenty of ex-Qatari pilots around. A colleague in my present company had a Traffic Collision Avoidance System warning (TACS) over Africa. This system gives a warning of an immenant collision with other traffic. My colleague carried out the correct action and missed the other aircraft by 300 feet. The other aircraft didn’t carry out the manoeuvre which is an immediate action!! Something you don’t question – you follow the “flight director”. Needless to say, it was a Qatar Airways aircraft that was given the flight level that they wanted – so they just climb to it anyway!!! The list goes on and on……. I chose to extend my life and left.

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