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Stray SMS leads to aborted landing

This is your Captain texting

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On May 27th, 2010, as an A310 flying from Darwin to Singapore descended to just 500 feet above terra firma, crew noticed the craft was not ready to land.

In accordance with the procedures of the airline concerned, Australian budget flier Jetstar, the crew executed a “go-around”, the hasty cancellation of landing and consequent rapid ascent to greater safety.

The reason for the incident?

Jetstar is politely calling it a “ cockpit distraction”, but the remedy it will apply to make sure this doesn’t happen again tells us more, as it reveals it has:

“Added an item to the takeoff checklist providing a reminder to pilots to ensure their mobile phones are switched off. This is a result of the investigation finding one of the pilot’s phones was inadvertently left on and automatically picked up messages on approach to Changi Airport, adding to distraction in the cockpit.”

If you’re thinking that what happened is that the pilot’s phone bleeped and he checked his messages rather than checking his readiness to land, you’d be about right.

Jetstar’s Chief Pilot, Captain Mark Rindfleish, said in a statement that: “Human factors, like distraction, are why airlines have so many procedural safeguards built into how they fly. The combination of factors on JQ57 has provided new learnings and the opportunity to add to these safeguards, which we take very seriously.”

The airline has therefore changed policies to ensure that aircraft are ready to land when 1000 feet above the earth. It has also “reinforced the importance of crew ensuring they use mandatory rest periods in between duties effectively.”

BOOTNOTE: Your correspondent lives beneath Sydney Airport’s main flight path and, in conversation with a pilot relative on a stormy evening this week, mentioned that it was the kind of weather in which go-arounds are not uncommon. The pilot remarked that go-arounds are no big deal these days, are achievable with a press of a single button in many modern aircraft and don’t result in an ascent much sharper than that experienced during takeoff.

But there’s another button for graver circumstances that really does give a plane all it’s got, to get out really nasty scrapes. ®

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