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Retired BA Concorde pilot speaks out on the cause of the AF4590 disaster

Retired BA Concorde pilot speaks out on the cause of the AF4590 disaster

Old Sep 22, 19, 6:04 am
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Retired BA Concorde pilot speaks out on the cause of the AF4590 disaster

Retired Concorde pilot John Hutchinson gave a lecture to the RAeS last week. The speech is forthright and damning of Air France and also the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA), the agency of the French government responsible for investigating aviation accidents and incidents and making safety recommendations based on what is learned from those investigations.
The truth is that Air France was totally to blame. Firstly their maintenance procedures were extremely poor. During an undercarriage service a spacer, that kept the wheels tracking straight, was not replaced. The spacer was later found on the shelf in the maintenance hangar. The aircraft had done four flights with this defect prior to the crash so it wasn’t the prime cause, but as with all accidents there were a number of other errors that all added up. This may have been another successful flight had the crew not of had such a cavalier attitude to flight safety.

The first officer’s licence had expired making the flight illegal. This wasn’t a factor in the crash but demonstrates the unprofessional attitude in Air France. The main fault lies with the Captain who overrode procedure and ordered the tanks to be filled to the brim instead of the normal 80%. He ordered more fuel than was required to be put in the aft tanks used for taxiing. He allowed 19 bags, that had not been weighed, to be loaded in the aft hold. All this made the aircraft over weight and the CofG out of limits. Presumably due to the weight and balance being out of limits he requested to use the runway extension, even though it was officially out of use because it was being re-surfaced. He also elected to take off with an 8 kt tail wind.

The French investigations verdict was that the crash was caused by a metal strap falling off a Continental airways DC10 onto the runway which burst a tyre, punctured the Concordes fuel tank starting a fire.

What really happened was that as the aircraft accelerated over the unprepared part of the runway it hit a ledge as it crossed onto the prepared surface at about 100kt. This caused the wheels to track to the left as they had no spacer to constrain them. The tyres overheated and burst starting the fire. The aircraft slewed off the runway to the left, hit a runway light and the metal strap which carved a piece of tyre off which was then thrown up into the wing tank setting up a shock wave. As the tank was full there was nowhere for it to go other than out through the top of the wing streaming fuel into the engine efflux. The engine overheated but wasn’t on fire and was still producing power. The flight engineer ignored normal procedure and shut the engine down. As the aircraft was past V2 he should have allowed the aircraft to gain height before doing that. All this contributed to the aircraft crashing into a hotel killing all 109 on board and 4 people in the hotel.

The death toll could have been a lot worse. As the Concorde was careering off the runway it missed a fully loaded 747 waiting for permission to cross, by just 20 feet. On board that aircraft was the President of France and his wife. In addition to that a British youth orchestra had planned to stay in the hotel. Had it not been for their ferry being delayed they would have checked in and certainly perished as well.

What makes the French authorities actions even worse was that they obstructed the UKs AAIB investigation, not allowing full and timely access to the crash site and certain evidence. The French prosecuted the Continental Airlines engineers for manslaughter and they unfairly blamed design weaknesses in Concorde. The engineers were later acquitted on appeal, and this is where much of the hidden evidence came to light. After the trial the French barrister, who successfully defended the engineers, was mysteriously found dead but the French didn’t hold an inquest into that.

A disgraceful chain of events that eventually led to Air France, who wanted to see Concorde grounded, putting pressure on Airbus, who were the design authority for Concorde, to increase their charges to British Airways. This was a deliberate act to make the aircraft too expensive to operate and resulted in an unjustifiable slur on the reputation of one of the greatest aircraft ever to fly.
Source: https://www.euroweeklynews.com/2019/...aims-ex-pilot/
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Old Sep 22, 19, 6:12 am
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There is also an interview on YouTube with John where he speaks about the crash

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Old Sep 22, 19, 6:30 am
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where is my tin foil hat

Conspiracies everywhere - someone died and so must have been murdered
The UK was not given unfettered access to something that was not in the UK nor was owned by the UK

Last edited by Prospero; Sep 22, 19 at 6:43 am Reason: To comply with rule 12.1
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Old Sep 22, 19, 6:30 am
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Wow, that's damming indeed, an unavoidable tragedy and the loss of a great aircraft from service if that's all true. One of my big air travel 'regrets' is never having flown it, was too young when it was in the air and now I'm a position to do so it's gone.

I seem to remember VS offered to buy them off BA for £1 but BA refused, I don't know how true that was but I still today think that was a ...... decision on BAs part done for all the wrong reasons (I'm sure there's more to it).

With the changes in the industry, going to aircraft like the 380 then coming back to smaller planes you wonder if there's even a sli. Chance we'll see the like of Concorde again..... I'd fly that before a 787 Max!!
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Old Sep 22, 19, 6:36 am
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A very interesting read. Thank you Prospero for posting.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 6:47 am
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Very interesting - I knew about the spacer & overweight takeoff but had understood these were technical breaches which didn’t materially contribute to the outcome.

It appears to me that, with all things involving a chain of events, it’s always going to come down to an expert’s ‘best guess’. I don’t know what standard of proof investigators have to arrive at, but if it’s a similar concept to England, then ‘balance of probabilities’ seems likely. This does not mean ‘definitely’; it means more than 50% certain. It does not mean the investigators are saying other theories aren’t possible, just that, on the evidence presented to them at the time, this theory seems most likely. I had no idea the mechanic at Continental was prosecuted for manslaughter. To my mind that seems extraordinary but I am commenting without knowing the facts or French law, which is fundamental. Again, in England, to be guilty of gross negligence manslaughter you have to owe the deceased a duty of care, have breached that duty, and the breach has to be so bad in all the circumstances it is a gross breach warranting the label criminally bad. You also of course have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the gross breach caused the death (doesn’t have to be the only cause). That’s why accident investigations and criminal investigations are mixed and matched at their peril.

We know that cover ups do occur from time to time (ie BA149 into Kuwait at start of Gulf War) and so I will always be open to this kind of allegation - the reality is I expect that there will always be alternative theories and without irrefragable evidence we will never know for sure. But I doubt the investigators said they were ‘sure’ just ‘this cause meets the evidential test’.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 7:19 am
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Thanks for sharing. It’s certainly interesting and should it be facts and truth, what I take from this at face value, then we should still be flying Concorde today.

Sad if that’s the case.

It would be interesting to see what sort of onboard hard product we would have on today’s Concorde (ok we can all mock and joke at BA because it would probably be the same seats from 20 yrs ago) and what sort of price of fares. But that’s derailing from main story.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 7:25 am
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It’s a conspiracy theory. Plausible but I trust the investigation.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 7:34 am
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Reading this article it seems that the Captain is all but blaming Concorde's demise on Air France's pressures on Airbus to ground the plane.

I appreciate his emotional attachment to the plane and I don't dispute his reconstructions of the events that led to the crash, but Concorde would've been grounded nonetheless; perhaps not as early as it did, but I'm ready to bet that it wouldn't have survived the $150/barrel era of the late 2000s. That and the fact that a lot of the spare parts, as I've been told by those who worked on it, were becoming hard to find - especially engines and gyroscopes.

However iconic Concorde was, it never become a truly 'reliable' plane, one that could be used day in, day out. A former colleague used to refer to BA's fleet as a fleet of prototype, each one with their own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. Not exactly your bog standard A320 if you see what I mean.

There used to be a rumour, internally, that Concorde never turned a profit; and that when Branson found out the actual maintenance and upkeep costs, he obviously backed down from his offer (not before blaming BA for not having accepted it, as it's his custom). Concorde was surely an epic machine, but a machine borne in an era where profitability and efficiency where unknown concept in the industry. Today a machine that had to have another one next door on standby in case it went tech, a machine that couldn't fly supersonic overland, would be all but useless. Unfortunately.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 7:36 am
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Originally Posted by bisonrav View Post
It’s a conspiracy theory. Plausible but I trust the investigation.
Like you said, it sounds quite plausible. What would be the reason for requesting 100% fuel in the tanks vs the regular 80%? And would flight deck colleagues not question that?
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Old Sep 22, 19, 7:42 am
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All these things may be true but they don’t indicate causality, and bringing in the idea of nearly killing the president and a band indicate a less than forensic approach. Most if not all of the factors discussed were noted in the report.

The investigatory authorities are not susceptible to government pressure and anyway there’s no reason for it.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 8:04 am
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Originally Posted by rockflyertalk View Post
Like you said, it sounds quite plausible. What would be the reason for requesting 100% fuel in the tanks vs the regular 80%? And would flight deck colleagues not question that?
Just to be very clear - it is fact (the investigation found this) that the aircraft was overweight. This is not in dispute. The question fundamentally is ‘how much weight do you attribute to different pieces of the evidential jigsaw’?
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Old Sep 22, 19, 8:11 am
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Originally Posted by Dave Noble View Post
where is my tin foil hat

Conspiracies everywhere - someone died and so must have been murdered
The UK was not given unfettered access to something that was not in the UK nor was owned by the UK
As the only other operator of this joint Anglo/French aircraft, it would seem reasonable (to me) that any information woukl have been shared freely with the UK authorities in th interest of Flight Safety.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 8:19 am
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Interesting post thanks. I wasn’t aware of some of the details and for me it fleshes out the possible sequence of events.

Overall it reads a little too much “it’s all the fault of the French and would never have happened here” IMHO.
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Old Sep 22, 19, 8:32 am
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Given the safety record of Air France from 2000-2010, I don't feel this is that much of a reach. The last part about AF wanting to see Concorde grounded/Airbus increasing charges to BA etc. may be a bit of a stretch. I mean, if AF wanted to park Concorde they pretty easily could have just done so.

With that said, the rest of the story is certainly believable and I could definitely see AF trying to cover up their own deficiencies by trying to blame a piece of FOD as being the only cause of this accident.
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