Episode 07: Fly-by-wire Failure, Part 1

November 7, 2017, 10:51 AM

On Oct. 7, 2008, Qantas Flight 72 was flying over the Indian Ocean from Singapore to Perth, Australia. Kevin Sullivan, pilot-in-command of the Airbus A330, was flying on autopilot at 37,000 feet when suddenly warnings started sounding throughout the cockpit; the primary flight control computers were malfunctioning. The aircraft began to pitch down, and Sullivan realized he was just another passenger, for a short time unable to control the errant Airbus. After regaining control of the A330, Sullivan then had to decide whether to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport, the military field at Learmonth, or continue another hour and a half to Perth.

In this episode of AIN’s The Human Factor, Sullivan recounts how he was able to identify the issues affecting the A330's fly-by-wire flight controls and minimize damage while planning how how to keep his 303 passengers safe.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau Report

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this episode to be released on November 15.

In this episode we will hear from:

  • Kevin Sullivan, pilot-in-command of the Airbus A330
  • Bill Palmer, author of Understanding Air France 447 and A330 pilot
  • Gary Rower, A330 pilot, flight instructor and airshow performer
  • Malcolm Yeo, retired pilot and passenger on Qantas Flight 72

Topics in this episode include:

  • Primary flight control computer 
  • Fly-by-wire system operation
  • Equipment malfunction
  • Autopilot versus manual flying

Read When Automation Fails, Qantas Pilot Employs Military Training.