When the last Dubai Airshow opened in 2015, the UAE’s major airlines led the world for flight safety. Unfortunately, this year’s event takes place against the backdrop of two fatal accidents in 2016 that challenged the hard-won reputation of UAE airlines for an unblemished safety record.
On Aug. 3, 2016, Emirates Flight EK521 crashed in Dubai when attempting a go-around. Luckily, all 300 souls on board escaped the aircraft, which skidded along the runway at Dubai International Airport, and burst into flames, causing the hull to be written off and a fireman to lose his life in an engine explosion.
“An Emirates Airline Boeing 777-300 operating as Flight EK521 from Thiruvananthapuram (India) to Dubai with 282 passengers and 18 crewmembers onboard was involved in an accident on landing at Dubai International Airport on 3 August,” Saif Al Suwaidi, director general, GCAA, said in his preface to the November 2016 issue of The Investigator, the GCAA’s semi-annual publication on air accident investigation.
“All of the occupants of the aircraft were safely evacuated. Unfortunately, a fireman involved in the rescue efforts suffered fatal injuries.”
“In the interest of accident prevention, the GCAA shall make every possible effort to release the final report as soon as possible, within 12 months of the date of the occurrence. If the final report cannot be made publicly available within 12 months, the GCAA shall make an interim statement publicly available on each anniversary of the occurrence, detailing the progress of the investigation and any safety issues raised,” it said.
After publishing a preliminary report on Sept.5, 2016, into the crash of the aircraft, registration A6-EMW, the GCAA published an interim report on Aug. 6, 2017.
“A large number of aircraft systems were tested with the assistance of the manufacturers and analysis of the data downloaded indicates that there were no aircraft systems or engine abnormalities up to the time of the accident,” said the interim report. It did not mention what role, if any, human factors played in the crash.
“The investigation is progressing but we do not yet have a publication date for the final report,” a GCAA spokesman told AIN.
Investigation into Crash in Russia
Flydubai Flight FZ981 crashed during a third attempt to land in adverse night-time conditions at Rostov-on-Don Airport in Russia on March 19, 2016. Fifty-five passengers and seven crew were killed in the accident, after the crew aborted two earlier approaches. The aircraft was registered as A6-FDN.
The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee published an interim report into FZ981 on April 20, 2016.
“Currently, the investigation team has planned, among others, for the following activities: clarifying the content of the CVR transcript; mathematic simulation of the aircraft flight and assessment of the control system operability; and examination of the psycho-emotional and physiological status of the crew taking into consideration the data about the crew work and rest time,” it said.
Before the two major accidents, Aviation Safety Network (ASN) data show only single incidents in the cases of each of the two UAE airlines. In 2009, an Emirates aircraft was involved in a tail strike in Melbourne, while in 2015, flydubai Flight FZ215 was hit by small-arms fire on approach to Baghdad. There are no flight safety incidents in ASN’s database involving the UAE’s other two major airlines, Etihad and Air Arabia.
“As we look back at 2016 we are reminded of the accidents that occurred at Rostov-on-Don in March and Dubai in August. The investigations into both occurrences continue and good progress is being made. We hope that the results of these investigations will contribute to [bring] some small comfort to those directly affected,” said Eng. Ismaeil Al Hosani, assistant director general, Air Accident Investigation Sector, GCAA.
"I have no information was to when the final report will be out,” a U.S. air accident investigation expert told AIN, when asked about the likely publication date of the final EK521 crash report.
“Based on what I have read in the media, it appears that accident was the result of human factors. However, there needs to be a lot more detail. Off-hand, and based on limited information, I think that a case could be made for over-reliance on automation. That is becoming a major issue throughout the industry. Crew training would be something else that the report should detail.”
A U.S. air accident investigator pointed out that the longer an airline is in business, the more likely accidents are to occur. “I would say it’s more of a matter of coincidence. The issue is that the longer an airline is in business and the more flights [it operates], at some point the odds are there will be an accident. How an airline responds to the accident and the measures it takes for the future [become] the most important factor.”
But with the GCAA achieving high scores in recent ICAO safety audits—such as the 98.86 percent it attained in ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program in 2015, the highest such score ever achieved—it is clear that the UAE safety authorities will make every effort to prevent such accidents recurring in the future.