XL Airways Germany Flight 888T
D-AXLA seen at Stuttgart Airport, 1 June 2008
|Date||27 November 2008|
|Summary||Maintenance error leading to loss of control in low-speed stall|
|Site||Mediterranean Sea, near Canet-en-Roussillon, France
|Aircraft type||Airbus A320-232|
|Operator||XL Airways Germany|
|Registration||D-AXLA (becoming ZK-OJL)|
|Flight origin||Perpignan–Rivesaltes Airport|
XL Airways Germany Flight 888T (GXL888T) was an Airbus A320 which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, 7 km off Canet-en-Roussillon on the French coast, close to the Spanish border, on 27 November 2008. The aircraft was on a flight test (or "acceptance flight") for which it had taken off from Perpignan - Rivesaltes Airport, made an overflight of Gaillac and was flying back to Perpignan Airport, doing an approach over the sea. The flight took place immediately following light maintenance and repainting to Air New Zealand livery on the aircraft; done in preparation for its transfer from XL Airways Germany, which had been leasing it, to Air New Zealand, the owner.
Seven people were on board, two Germans (the pilot and co-pilot, from XL Airways) and five New Zealanders (one pilot, three aircraft engineers and one member of the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand). All were killed; two bodies were recovered within hours of the crash, the others were found during later weeks.
The extent of shattering of the wreckage indicated that the crash occurred at high speed.
The aircraft involved was an Airbus A320-232, registered D-AXLA, manufactured in 2005 and assigned a manufacturer's serial number of 2500. It first flew on 30 June 2005 and was delivered to Air New Zealand's low-cost subsidiary Freedom Air with the registration ZK-OJL. Star XL German Airlines (as XL Airways Germany was named at the time) took delivery of the aircraft on 25 May 2006. At the time of the crash it was due to be delivered back to Air New Zealand and re-registered ZK-OJL.
The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was quickly found and recovered; and on 30 November divers recovered the second flight recorder–the flight data recorder (FDR)–and a third body, unidentified at the time. Although the CVR was damaged, experts said that there was a good probability of recovering data from it.
In late December, French investigators attempted to retrieve data from the CVR and FDR, but they could not be read. Usable data from the recorders was later recovered by Honeywell Aerospace in the United States.
The investigators' interest focused on the Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU) following recent similar incidents involving Airbus A330s operated by Qantas, exhibiting sudden uncommanded manoeuvring (including Qantas Flight 72). The investigation was led by the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA), with the participation of its counterparts from the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU), the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC), and the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Specialists from Airbus and from International Aero Engines (IAE, the manufacturer of the aircraft's engines), from XL Airways Germany (operator of the aircraft) and from Air New Zealand (the owner of the aircraft), were associated with the work of the technical investigation.
Analysis of the data led to an interim finding that the crew lost control of the aircraft. While conducting a planned test of low-speed flight at low altitude, the aircraft was descending through 3000 feet on full autopilot for a go-around. Landing gear was just extended when at 15:44:30 UTC the speed dropped from 136 to 99 knots in 35 seconds. The stall warning sounded four times during violent manoeuvring to regain control. By 15:46:00 the warning had silenced as the aircraft regained speed in a rapid descent, but six seconds later, at 263 knots, the aircraft had only 340 feet elevation and was 14 degrees nose down. A second later it was in the water.
In September 2010, the BEA published its final report into the accident. One of the contributing causes was incorrect maintenance procedures which allowed water to enter the angle of attack (AOA) sensors. The water then froze in flight, rendering the sensors inoperative and thus removing the protection they provided from the aircraft's flight management system. The primary cause of the accident was that when the crew attempted an improvised test of the AOA warning system (which was not functioning due to the blocked sensors) they lost control of the aircraft. (Some of the aircraft's computers received conflicting information and operated in degraded mode where some protections were not available. [More precisely: two out of three angle of attack sensors have been frozen and rendered inoperative. System logic has been designed to reject sensor values which deviate significantly from the others. In this specific case, this principle led to the rejection of the single operative angle of attack sensor, and to the acceptance of the two faulty ones, which provided similar values, but have been stuck since cruise flight. This in turn led to erratic limit speeds computations, moreover stall warning in normal law was not possible.] All the above resulted in degraded functionality of automated systems, some stall protection functions were not available. However, stall warning was still available, and has been triggered during the last phase of the flight.)  The crew was unaware that the AOA sensors were blocked, but they also disregarded the proper speed limits for the tests they were performing, resulting in a stall. Five safety recommendations were made.
The New Zealand Herald remarked on the date coincidence with another Air New Zealand crash. Due to differing time zones, the crash of Flight 888T occurred in the morning of 28 November New Zealand time - 29 years to the day after Air New Zealand Flight 901 crashed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 on board.
- Accidents and incidents involving the Airbus A320 family
- Air France Flight 447
- Air France Flight 296
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- "Accident on 27 November 2008 off the coast of Canet-Plage (66) to the Airbus A320-232 registered D-AXLA operated by XL Airways Germany" (PDF). Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
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- Accidents and Incidents during Non-Revenue Flights — SKYbrary
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network