Qatar Airways Fires Pilots Responsible For Miami Accident

Last 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 in 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, where they took off from intersection “T1,” instead of doing a full length takeoff, like they were supposed to. 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

As I wrote about in December, this incident was caused by confusion and miscommunication on the part of the pilots. Before the flight, they were given a temporary performance advisory for the runway on which they were taking off, which was named “Runway 09#T1.”

When they went to takeoff they used intersection “T1” for takeoff, which was a huge mistake. They made this mistake because they recalled hearing “T1” before, though the context was completely different. There was some confusion in the cockpit, though they continued with the takeoff anyway.

They’re very fortunate nothing worse happened, though it’s rather pathetic that Qatar Airways’ CEO brushed off the incident at the time, claiming that “such kinds of incidents happen quite often.” No, Akbar, I don’t think a plane colliding with the runway lights and flying with 90 dents and scratches for 14 hours without the pilots knowing is something which “happens quite often.”

And that’s a bit concerning, because it makes you wonder what kind of safety policies the airline has when they don’t view an incident like this as being serious.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently sat down with Al Baker, given the airline just launched flights between Doha and Sydney. They brought up the Miami incident to him, since airline safety is of course something which is very important to passengers. Here’s what he had to say:

Mr Al Baker on Thursday reiterated “runway overruns happen very often in airports”. But he said passengers could rest assured the Miami incident was the “first and last” time it would happen at his airline. “At no time was there any harm or any major safety issue for the aircraft and its passengers,” he said, emphasising the plane landed safely.

The safety message became a little muddled when he was asked to explain why all of the pilots on the flight deck that day had been sacked.

“At Qatar Airways we will not accept any kind of lapses by pilots because they have hundreds of passengers whom they risked,” he said. “[The pilot flying] was not asked to leave because he did anything by putting passengers at risk. What he did was he violated the company regulations on takeoff distance required by an aircraft, especially with the weight he was carrying on that aircraft.”

So Al Baker still isn’t acknowledging the severity of the issue, or the fact that things could have ended a lot worse.

But instead he’s playing a word game here. The pilots weren’t fired because they flew the plane unsafely, but rather because they violated the company’s regulations on takeoff distance required by an aircraft.

That’s the same thing!

What does Qatar Airways base their regulations around regarding takeoff distances required by an aircraft? Isn’t it based on the safe distance required?

Bottom line

It’s pathetic that Qatar Airways isn’t acknowledging the severity of the incident. Though perhaps they’re just trying to save face, and are in fact taking it seriously, based on the fact that they sacked the pilots (or maybe they’re just doing that so they can shift blame). Regardless, claiming no one was at risk is a gross exaggeration, as multiple airline pilots have chimed in on this and indicated that the situation could have ended a lot worse.

I’d much rather an airline leader acknowledge something went wrong (no matter how severe it is) and explain what’s being done to fix it, rather than brush something under the rug and pretend it wasn’t a big deal.

Do you think Qatar Airways is taking this issue seriously internally and just trying to save face, or do you think Al Baker really views the incident the way he’s claiming?

Comments

  1. I’d say it is a cultural thing. Akbar Al-Baker fully understands the issue and he is equally concerned as any of us. That’s why he fired the pilots. The fact of not acknowledging this mistake publicly is a cultural issue in the middle east in general.

  2. I completely agree to you – this behaviour of Akbar is indeed a big security risk. In Airlines the best guarantee for security is an open and non-threatening mistake culture, in which mistakes can be discussed and eliminated, instead getting fired. This will lead to pilots that are afraid of getting fired and not openly discussing mistakes, and in consequence to no mitigating measure. For myself I will avoid them going forward – because exactly this open mistake culture is what makes American and European Airlines more safe than others.

  3. Hard to believe the pilots didn’t notice the nice, lighted runway distance markers to realize they were starting at eight or nine thousand feet instead of 13,000 ft…

  4. I don’t think you should fire pilots because they had an accident. You should definitely fire pilots because they didn’t adhere to the safety regulations. I.e they should have been fired even if there was no accident, if it was determined they didn’t follow safety regulations. I have no issue with his explanation.

  5. Man O Man Ben, tough couple of days for Qatar on OMAAT. The next time you fly them they are going to toss you from the plane at 35000! Keep up the great work!

  6. Ok, since you keep poking at FAA for calling this an accident, here’s the definition from Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49, Part 830:

    § 830.2 Definitions.
    Aircraft accident means an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage. For purposes of this part, the definition of “aircraft accident” includes “unmanned aircraft accident,” as defined herein.

    46cm tear in the fuselage is pretty substantial damage.

    As far as safety culture goes, yes, pilots messed up big time. No distance remaining markers would be of use if they made a conscious decision to do an intersection takeoff – of course they will show what they show.

    Yes, Al Baker is just trying to put a good face on this ugly ducking by pretending it’s a big deal.

    Yes, the safety culture at middle east airlines and, more so, at everyone’s favorite Asian carriers is abysmal. Even with expat pilots flying some of the planes, what happens behind the scenes is horrendous. For a peek behind the curtain of your recent favorite Hainan group, check out this “Flying Upside Down”
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/273231452/Flying-Upside-Down-pdf

  7. While I believe they currently have safe, modern, and well maintained equipment, I do believe Qatar and Emirites care more about image than anything (hence the “bling” and constant clamoring for things like “longest flight”). Its very Kardashian/Trump/New Russian Millionaire. I wonder how this tactic will play out as the equipment ages?

  8. At least he was able to fire the pilots. Here in the US, an arbitrator would have probably put them back to work.

  9. Regardless what Al Baker said, he knows that this was a very serious incident and I assume that he has enough brains to know this. In that sense his excuse is a bit lame, but on the other hand, could he unlike Western corporate leaders admit that this was a major issue?
    What we can say for sure:

    The aircraft was around max take off weight (MTOW), given that long flight to DOH.
    MTOW is calculated enabling the aircraft to still take off and climb safely after experiencing an engine failure after V1.
    The MTOW is calculated based on aerodrome altitude, temperature, runway length and any obstacles close to the runway.
    Given that the crew entered the RW after a considerable length and therefore had far less RW length available, in case of an event after reaching V1, or even before V1, they would not have had enough RW available to come to a complete stop.
    We now must imagine an aircraft full of fuel overshooting the RW…….

    From the accident investigation report, it is also known that the crew saw the red RW lights, indicating that they were coming close to the end of the RW and they increased thrust beyond the pre set take off thrust. This clearly shows that they must have noticed that something was very wrong.

  10. Ben, I’m glad you’ve raised the issue again. The airline’s handling of this situation couldn’t be worse. If they acknowledged the seriousness of the incident straight away and were open and transparent, they probably would have scored some respect. The best airlines have incidents, it’s how they respond to them that matters.

  11. @Dima
    OMG! I have heard that flying in China was challenging. Flying Upside Down makes my former job of Captain (read Instructor pilot) for SpiceJet (SG) and living in Delhi seem like child’s play. Truth to the “no matter how bad you think you have it, somebody has it worse.”

  12. akbar likes firing people just to have someone to blame, but at the same time he says there is no fault to his airline. if there is no fault, then why did he sack the pilots? he is trying to save face but at the same time not doing anything even internally to solve the issue in a proper manner. sacking people doesn’t solve problems.

  13. Al-Bakar was probably busy molesting his favorite flight attendant at the time. Runway end lights had to be explained to him later.

  14. These are not airline Pilots they are contract Pilots. The ME3 carriers have inherent safety problems with contract pilots in command of their aircraft who are dependant on their performance rather tenure. You have a much greater risk of never screening out a German Wings type pilot (or a Captain who would depart midfield in a heavy) in the cockpit without a seniority based system. Overall ME3 carriers and anyone who staffs via contract is not as safe as a tenure based seniority system where safety comes above the blame game and Pilots operating aircraft with fear of losing their next contract offer.

  15. All fair criticisms. But to be fair, none of the airline executives including the US or European would do exactly the same in case of pilot error. Rest is all posturing. Al Baker is generally notorious thus the extra scrutiny.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *