First A350 Flight Out Of The US Has Aborted Takeoff

In and of itself an aborted takeoff isn’t a big deal. I’ve had several of them over the years, and even a few (fairly) high speed ones. They’re a bit more “exciting” than go arounds, but really not a big deal. When a takeoff is aborted it means the pilots know there’s enough room to stop, which is better than continuing if there’s a potential problem.

Qatar Airways flew an A350 to the US for their “pivotal announcement” this week, which would “usher in a historic moment in American aviation.” The announcement? That Qatar Airways is launching a new brand campaign. As usual, more interesting than the “announcement” itself was what Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways’ CEO, had to say. He’s probably the least “reserved” guy in the airline industry, and he had a lot to say.

Qatar-Airways-A350-Business-Class-30
Qatar Airways A350 business class

Qatar’s 777 incident at Miami Airport

Perhaps the most troubling was what Al Baker had to say about the Qatar Airways “incident” which happened at Miami Airport a few months back. During this incident a Qatar Airways 777 overran the runway at Miami Airport, hit the runway lights, had 90 scratches and dents, had a 46cm tear in the fuselage, and the plane lost some cabin pressure. The most concerning part? The pilots didn’t realize any of it happened until they landed in Doha 13+ hours later.

Qatar-777

The Qatari Civil Aviation Administration released their report about what happened, and put the blame squarely on the pilots. The four pilots miscommunicated terribly, and had even discussed the exact takeoff procedure during their briefing, which they didn’t end up following.

Actually, more concerning than anything else is that the airline’s CEO doesn’t take the incident seriously at all. He claimed:

  • “Such kinds of incidents happen quite often” (false)
  • “It was an instruction given to our pilot by the air traffic control, which he should have refused to accept” (false)
  • “However, he had enough runway for getting airborne and it was only an unfortunate incident” (ummm… if they had enough runway, why didn’t they take off without hitting objects on the other end of the runway?)
  • “At no time was the aircraft or the passengers put in any harms way” (that’s a real stretch)

Fortunately everyone was okay, though Al Baker’s perspective on this is troubling, in my opinion.

The irony of Qatar’s aborted A350 takeoff

Yesterday Qatar Airways operated an A350 charter back from New York JFK to Doha, which had a bunch of media people aboard. This was technically the first “passenger” A350 departure out of the US, so was a pretty big deal.

Well, on departure out of JFK the A350 had an aborted takeoff, which Zach Honig (editor of The Points Guy) captured on video:

The reason for the high speed aborted takeoff? Apparently the A350 got a signal indicating that the runway was too short and it auto-braked… at least that’s what the airline’s CCO claimed. Per the blog post:

Qatar’s Chief Commercial Officer, the highest ranking executive on the flight, came over to reassure us, explaining that an “indicator” was responsible for the abrupt abort. As I understand it, for some reason the A350 decided that our 11,000-foot runway was too short to support the takeoff, and the plane applied the brakes at full force — all on its own.

Ultimately this wasn’t a big deal (in the sense that no one was in danger), as it was clearly just a glitch in the system, and you’re always better safe than sorry. It was clearly a very “abrupt” incident, but there’s not really much which can go wrong when you abort a takeoff.

Still, there’s  something hilariously ironic about an indicator going off claiming the runway was too short (when it clearly wasn’t), while the airline’s CEO claims the runway in the Miami incident was long enough (when it clearly wasn’t).

Other interesting tidbits from the “incident,” according to Zach on Twitter:

  • Some passengers wanted to deplane, and even though they returned to the gate, the CCO wouldn’t allow them to deplane, as he wanted to save face
  • Zach was told to stop recording during the aborted takeoff… a somewhat odd request on a media flight
  • A passenger (who Zach thinks was an airline executive) came up to him and asked him to “stop Tweeting for now”

Bottom line

Like I said, an aborted takeoff isn’t really a big deal, in the sense that no one was in danger. Still, you can’t help but sort of chuckle at the irony of the reason for the aborted takeoff — an indicator going off that the runway was too short — when just two days prior the airline’s CEO denied any responsibility for their “incident” which happened for exactly that reason.

The attempt to restrict media coverage on a media flight is also sort of funny. I’ll give the flight attendant the benefit of the doubt in saying he should stop filming (since it’s possible they were preparing for an evacuation), but if he was told to stop Tweeting at a later point, well, there’s no excuse for that…

What an airline!

Comments

  1. Perhaps if they installed some runway lights in the first few hundred feet, the plane would continue instead?

  2. “Why didn’t the abort indicator go off in Miami…?”

    Different kind of plane. Airbus installed the ROPS (Runway Overrun Prevention System) on the A350 and other new Airbuses. It’s a new technology that I don’t believe is installed on any Boeing product as of yet. The Miami jet was a B777.

    But if indeed ROPS stopped the plane, that’s a false positive. That’s also no good.

  3. Seems you are Very biased against this airline it seethes through ! We NEED all the help and attention we can get in the US airline industry so stop picking on foreign carriers !!

  4. I think a glitch in the system is rather a big deal if it results in the plane performing an incorrect action on its own.

  5. “Ultimately this wasn’t a big deal (in the sense that no one was in danger), as it was clearly just a glitch in the system, and you’re always better safe than sorry. It was clearly a very “abrupt” incident, but there’s not really much which can go wrong when you abort a takeoff.”

    Wow. Not much can go wrong when you abort a takeoff? How about overshooting the runway and colliding with ground structures, resulting in a fire that destroys the aircraft?

    Also, you seem to be glossing over the salient point, which is that NO ONE aborted this takeoff. The plane decided to abort on its own, apparently incorrectly. That’s an inappropriate uncommanded action which may indicate a serious design flaw in the avionics. Just imagine if the plane were to make this kind of error while in the air!

    Say what you will about the communication issues and human errors in the Miami case, but the 777 itself performed flawlessly – quite impressive considering the damage it had sustained! In this new incident, it’s the plane itself that seems to be the problem. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t cancel the flight, but I suppose with all the media aboard AAB would have thrown a fit (not that muzzling the media was in any way appropriate either).

    Ultimately, this “glitch” could turn out to be a really big deal. I’m sure Airbus will be all over this plane when it lands. It’ll be interesting to see if the FAA/NTSB start poking around too.

  6. @ Arcanum — You’d only abort a takeoff if you’re below the “V1” speed. Above that you’re past the “point of no return,” and you’re taking off regardless of what happens. So assuming you abort the takeoff before “V1,” there’s not really any risk as far as I know, since V1 is determined at the safe speed until which you can abort based on runway length, plane load, etc.

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, please.

  7. Yikes! Some commenters on TPG were skeptical about the reasoning given by the Qatar exec so I hope we get a more complete information. A rather embarrassing incident for Qatar and Airbus either way.

  8. In oligarchical/monarchical societies such as Qatar and the UAE, tight control of the media is a norm. These Gulf carries’ CEOS, especially for Qatar, are so accustomed to being able to control their message and suppress any information they want that it shows when things go wrong for them in the Western World. Asking any media to turn off recording devices or stop taking photos or stop tweeting is both inappropriate and ridiculous–barring a serious security concern which we all know wasn’t a factor here. This just casts a bit more doubt on all the other announcements and explanations so often offered by these Gulf carriers when things do go awry…since they obviously try to hard to avoid revealing the truth even on such a simple and innocent “error/mistake” as in this case. Makes you wonder what they’d say if something REALLY serious were ever to go wrong…or how they’d handle it. Not impressive at all.

  9. “So assuming you abort the takeoff before “V1,” there’s not really any risk as far as I know, since V1 is determined at the safe speed until which you can abort based on runway length, plane load, etc.”

    I think there is always a risk of the brakes catching on fire and causing a larger fire. I think V1 just means you likely won’t run off the end of the runway. I’m not an expert either though.

  10. Folks, as an Airbus guy I would strongly suggest this was pilot error putting the wrong figures into the FMS. Though the ROW/ROP system is vulnerable to external factors too.

    It’s a computer at the end of the day – It can only use the information given to it.

  11. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/picture-a350-rejects-take-off-at-maximum-energy-401844/

    “While the twin-engined A350 has already conducted rejected take-off tests, the maximum-energy event is intended to examine the extreme case of a rejection at high speed and high weight with braking capability at its limits.”

    “Airbus says the test was “successfully performed”. The maximum-energy test is left until last because of the risk of damage to the aircraft.”

  12. V1 I believe is the point of no return(pilot friend told me), once they reach V1 they will take off no matter what the problem, as in the Concorde crash in Paris, even though he knew he had a fire he had to take off. I find it funny the cabin crew said stop filming, they didn’t even know what was happening but they were trying to protect the reputation of the airline. People filming during an incident actually helps airline crash investigators sometimes. A bad start to a great plane. Thanks for your story Ben.

  13. Seems like you have a thing against the CEO and the airline. Yet your always the first to fly on them. If you don’t like them switch carriers. Waaahhawaaaaahhhh

  14. The aborted takeoff doesn’t concern me too much. The media policy of the airline concerns me more because of the worry that things might get covered up.

    Airbus planes generally are more automated than Boeing planes. There are benefits to that but this is not the first time I’ve heard of an Airbus “taking over” from the pilots or being too clever for its own good. We hear about it when that has a negative outcome but not otherwise, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison.

    The A350 is the newest plane out there so I’d expect that there are teething problems to be ironed out, like batteries on the 787 and the engine blowout on a Qantas A380. I hope to be on one of the new Finnair’s A350’s when they start to the US next year.

    The V1 issue is moot in this case as it could have safely taken off.

  15. @Lucky

    Long time reader (if you remember all my positive supportive comments over the years?)

    I’m an ex 747-400 Captain (VS) and current pilot. I do have to “correct you if you’re wrong” as you suggested.

    Many many aborted take offs have been botched over the decades, those iniated below and above V1 speed. It is actually THE most critical procedure we hope we never have to do especially on heavy weight take offs (light weight way less critical actually)

    This is because the energy of a high speed (needed to lift heavy weight of course) and the massive weight at start of flights across the planet, is astronomical and if one of the aspects of a rejected take off is not completed exactly and aggressively, a disaster can ensue, and potential fatalities with impact, fire etc. Sometimes an engine failure on take off that we “bring in the air” is safer and easier than a high speed abort.

    Your analysis of the Miami accident also is pretty good for an amateur, you are obviously very knowledgable for one, but not a professional and there is a lot you were not considering or just don’t understand. Why would you in fact?

    Still a huge fan Ben, your knowledge of the airline industry from a passenger and value aspect is just awesome. You ain’t a pilot though (as you know 😉

    I’m only saying as it makes me cringe a bit and would rather continue to look forward to reading my favorite by far blog.

    Kudos for an incredible blog and your success in the media. You’re still the best out there

  16. Lucky, you come with some misinformation. This was not a high speed rejected takeoff. They came to a stop just after starting the accileration. They hardly came above taxi speed. At that speed pilots reject for any malfunctions, alerts, unusual sounds or vibrations. Since this was their first takeoff from there, I guess it was just a database error. That is IF we can trust the information is correct about the reason for the rejected takeoff. It comes from a passenger, and most reports from passengers in cases like this are at the best unreliable.
    By the way, the guy in Qatar is correct when saying performance calculations errors are not uncommon. They happen in all airlines, but for the most part without damage. But to say no one was in danger when hitting approach lights on departure is just ridiculous.

  17. Did you not watch the video? Based on the time of acceleration they must have been going significantly faster than taxi speed.

  18. Robert, yes, they came to a stop just after the displaced threshold, as you see from the markings. They vacated the runway, after some taxiing, on to taxiway H, about 1200 down the runway. A high speed reject would end up much, much further down the runway. Looks to me that they made it to forty or maybe even fifty knots, just above normal taxi speed of thirty knot. A high speed reject will be above eighty knots (some companies use a hundred knots), as that is where the reject is limited from all problems and indications of problems, to only very few select critical problems.

  19. I concur with some of the more technically minded posts, and cringe at the other more personal attacks, and the “I hate this airline” type of responses. Just so we are clear, I am an engineer, AND a pilot.

    As someone said before, this new Airbus has an automatic safety feature that senses if the remaining runway is sufficient for takeoff and, if it is not, rejects the takeoff without pilot input. In this case, they were on JFK’s runway 22R which is 12,000 ft long (more than enough). They began the takeoff roll in the displaced threshold area (3,400 ft) and were accelerating normally until the auto-reject which brought the plane to a halt just before the displaced threshold, as seen in the video. So my guess is the computers ‘read’ the displaced threshold as the end of the runway, and applied brakes. That would not be unusual, because on landing, that point ‘is’ the start of the allowed landing zone. The system did what it was designed to do, it just didn’t understand the difference.

    So then, either it will require a software upgrade, or a flight crew procedure to manually override the safety feature when departing from a displaced threshold runway.

    What I would be curious to know is, will the safety feature activate if the aircraft is above V1? If the aircraft passes V1 and is committed to flight, and the system activated (brakes, spoilers, reversers) before rotation, that would be a very bad scene.

  20. As a pilot who has trained on the A350, I can tell you that the Takeoff Surveillance function, which would issue a “Runway Too Short” message is NOT tied to the autobrakes.
    There is a similar function that operates on landing (after nosewheel down and spoilers up) that can apply maximum autobrakes if the autobrakes are already active and it is determined that a runway overrun is likely.
    There are two modes to the warning on takeoff. One prior to takeoff power application, and another after takeoff power application. The calculations compare predicted liftoff distance and runway remaining.
    After takeoff power application, the prediction uses actual data, instead of pilot-entered data.
    :
    The FMS computes the liftoff distance based on the following data:
    ‐ The aircraft weight (the TOW or the GW)
    ‐ VR and V2
    ‐ The flaps setting
    ‐ The T.O thrust
    ‐ The anti-ice setting
    ‐ The pack setting.
    plus altitude, temperature, and runway slope.

    When the engines are set to takeoff power:
    ‐ The FMS uses the runway length of the current runway based on the current position of the aircraft.
    The runway length is the runway length stored in the navigation database.
    ‐ The FMS computes the runway takeoff shift based on the current aircraft position.
    The ADIRS provides the current aircraft position.

    The autobrakes activate, if armed for takeoff (as they normally are) when the crew retards the thrust lever when above 72 knots, which sends a spoiler-deploy signal, which triggers the autobrakes. Incidentally, the runway-too-short message is inhibited above 80 knots. They do not automatically activate as a result of the Runway Too Short message.

    Possibly, the Runway Too Short message was issued in error, and the crew followed the procedure for the alert (abort the takeoff). Had they been on a different runway than that entered in the FMS, they would also have received a “NOT ON FMS RUNWAY” warning.

  21. As a self-admitted amateur in this area, I find @B Palmer (and a few commenters on TPG) to be the most plausible. As someone who works in the tech industry, I have a hard time believing that the FMS can engage an auto-brake function and automatically override the pilot’s controls at such a critical moment of flight.

    Whether the A350 threw up a “Runway Too Short” message based on @islandflyer’s theory or the pilot saw the Threshold Markings and thought he had pulled a “QR MIA”, the reality is that we may never know.

    Regardless, this points to what a few others have said – it is very concerning that QR can’t be honest with the public. What else might they be covering up?

  22. Refused to go back to the gate? I would have told the CCO that if I wasn’t deplaned immediately I would call the police to make a complaint about false imprisonment, after which I would call the New York Times. That would have seized his attention.

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