Airbus Industrie Flight 129
|Date||30 June 1994|
|Summary||Pilot error, loss of control|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A330-321|
Airbus Industrie Flight 129 was an Airbus Industrie A330-321 test flight that ended in a crash on 30 June 1994 at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, killing all seven people aboard. The last test flown was to certify the plane's takeoff capability with a single engine failure. It was the first fatal accident involving an Airbus A330 as well as the first hull-loss of the type. It remained the only fatal accident involving an A330 until the crash of Air France Flight 447 on 1 June 2009.
The aircraft involved in the accident was an Airbus A330-321, registration F-WWKH, c/n 42. Equipped with twin Pratt & Whitney PW4164 powerplants, it first flew on 14 October 1993. The aircraft was 259 days old at the time of the accident.
The objective of the flight was to test the performance of the aircraft in simulated engine failures after takeoff, which meant throttling down one of the aircraft's engines to idle and switching off a hydraulic circuit. During most of the tests, the aircraft's autopilot would be set to fly the plane to an altitude of 2,000 feet (610 m). The particular test that led to the crash flew in a configuration with the plane's center of gravity near its aft limit, achieved by carrying tons of water in bladders in the rear of the aircraft's cabin.
The captain was Airbus chief test pilot Nick Warner, an American. The copilot was Michel Cais, an Air Inter training captain who had been working with the Airbus training organization Aeroformation. A flight test engineer was on board as the third member of the crew.
Airbus management was interested in promoting the plane to potential customers, and did not perceive the test to be hazardous, so they invited four passengers on the plane: one Airbus executive, one airline executive, and two Alitalia pilots who were in Toulouse for a commercial training programme at the Airbus headquarters: Alberto Nassetti and Pier Paolo Racchetti(IT).
The aircraft had just successfully completed a landing, after the captain had performed two simulated engine loss go-arounds, taking a total of 55 minutes. The second takeoff would be made with the aircraft's center of gravity located in an extreme aft position. This time the aircraft was flown by the co-pilot, while the actions to shut off the engine and hydraulic circuit, and engage the autopilot, were carried out by the captain. The takeoff was completed successfully and the captain shut off the engine and hydraulic circuit. Three attempts were needed to engage the autopilot and the aircraft started to ascend to 2000 ft. The aircraft climbed too steeply, decreasing airspeed to 100 knots (120 mph; 190 km/h), below the minimum 118 knots required to maintain control. The aircraft started to roll, so the crew reduced power on the operating engine to counter the thrust asymmetry. This exacerbated the problem and the aircraft pitched down 15 degrees and soon after crashed into the ground. All seven people on board were killed, and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
The crash was investigated by a commission of enquiry within the Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA), the French Government Defense procurement and technology agency responsible for investigating flight test accidents. The commission found the crash was due to "a combination of several factors, no one of which, in isolation, would have caused the crash." These included:
- Captain Warner's fatigue after a "punishingly busy day" which had included an A321 demonstration flight, supervision of a simulator session, and two meetings, including a press briefing;
- Lack of a complete pre-flight briefing, caused by Warner's schedule, and possible complacency caused by success of the testing through the previous takeoff;
- Choice of maximum takeoff/go-around (TOGA) thrust rather than the slightly lower "Flex 49" setting, which caused higher than planned thrust asymmetry during the simulated left engine failure;
- Choice of trim setting at 2.2° nose-up; although within acceptable limits, this was inappropriate for the extreme aft CG configuration flown.
- Autopilot inadvertently left set at 2,000 feet (610 m) altitude capture from the previous test;
- Absence of attitude protection in the autopilot's altitude capture mode;
- Uncertainty in allocation of tasks between the captain and copilot; the copilot rotated the aircraft "firmly and very fast" to a takeoff attitude of more than 25°, compared with the usual 14.5° used for the first, successful takeoff;
- The captain carried out test procedures immediately after takeoff: autopilot engage, throttling back the left engine, and tripping the hydraulic circuit breaker; this took him temporarily "out of the piloting loop."
- Lack of visual indication of autopilot mode, obscured by the extreme pitch attitude;
- Crew overconfidence in expected aircraft response;
- Delayed reaction of the test engineer to changes in flight parameters, particularly airspeed;
- "Captain's slowness in reacting to the development of an abnormal situation."
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 18 July 2012.
- "Accident record for the Airbus A330". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Airbus A330 - MSN 42 - F-WWKH". Airfleets.net. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Learmount, David (19 July 1994). "Airbus defends A330 but warns on autopilot (page 4)". Flight International. 146 (4429). ISSN 0015-3710. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012.
- "Airbus defends A330 but warns on autopilot (page 5)". Flight International. Archived from the original on 8 March 2014.
- Learmount, David (12 July 1994). "Autopilot test ends in A330 take-off crash". Flight International. 146 (4428): 4. ISSN 0015-3710. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012.
- Learmount, David (16 August 1994). "A330 crash caused by series of small errors" (PDF). Flight International: 6. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
Immediately after take-off, the captain then carried out the test procedures: autopilot engage, throttle-back port engine and trip circuit-breaker for blue hydraulic circuit.
- "Subject: Air crash at Blagnac (France)." European Parliament. 30 July 1998. Retrieved on 1 September 2015. "The seven victims included two Italian pilots working for Alitalia, Alberto Nassetti and Pier Paolo Racchetti, who were in Toulouse for a five-day commercial training programme at the headquarters of the French company."
- Learmount, David (23 August 1994). "Airbus wary over A330 changes" (PDF). Flight International: 4. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2012.