Another lawsuit stemming from the crash on July 6, 2013, of a Boeing 777 at San Francisco’s airport has been dropped. Reuters reported that the plane approached San Francisco at a lower than intended speed and crashed after a failed attempt to abort the landing. The events that day were particularly surprising as the weather in San Francisco was clear, with good visibility, and no mechanical failure was at fault.
Despite the large airliner carrying 291 passengers and 16 crew to San Francisco bursting into flames, rescuers from the San Francisco police and fire department saved hundreds of lives. In the end, three people died in San Francisco that day. Ye Meng Yuan’s passing was one of those tragedies, as she was outside the aircraft and on the San Francisco runway, according to the Guardian, when two rescue vehicles from San Francisco fire and rescue ran her over, causing fatal injuries.
It is not known whether the family are amongst the many who filed lawsuits against the airline, Asiana Airlines, and Boeing as a result of the San Francisco crash. As covered in Aviation Week, there are some significant industry concerns that the complexity of the 777’s automatic flight control system may have contributed to Asiana Airlines Flight 214’s crash into the sea wall in San Francisco.
As pilots become more dependent on increasingly automated systems, the chance of misunderstanding either the system or the actions needed to avert a disaster like the one in San Francisco become more likely. Much as stock traders were unsure how to respond to the 2010 “Flash Crash,” which wiped a fortune from the NYSE, the pilots were unable to take over control successfully from the computer systems to abort the landing at San Francisco. Misconfiguration of the air speed control system and poor training by Asiana were also blamed for problems during the approach to San Francisco’s airport.
With older aircraft, which feature less complex systems, retiring in significant numbers over the coming years, it’s important that lessons are learned from the mistakes made during the aircraft’s San Francisco approach. Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute has started research into solutions to test, and prevent, issues arising from the complexity of automated systems such as those used during the San Francisco landing. Their hope is that future aircraft safety certification will be better equipped to manage complexity, and that the resultant systems on our airlines will be designed to avoid the confusion experienced by the crew on the approach to San Francisco.
[Photo by the NTSB via Getty Images]