Miles O’Brien is a pilot, airplane owner and freelance journalist who lives in Manhattan. His blog is located at www.milesobrien.com. The opinions expressed are his own.
Air France Flight 447 went down in a giant, dangerous, violent storm that might not have been survivable under any circumstances. But as the Airbus A-330 penetrated that huge system of thunderstorms, sensors, systems and computers on the plane started failing in a rapid cascade that would make any pilot’s head spin – even if he was not in the middle of extreme turbulence flying blind in the night.
The failures likely sealed the fate of the 228 souls sealed inside that thin metal tube as it hurtled through the dark, stormy night – but were they contributing causes with their own roots – or simply the unavoidable outcomes of a decision to fly such a perilous course?
Remember, more often than not, an airliner goes down at the end of a long chain of unrelated, seemingly innocuous decisions, malfunctions, mistakes and external factors. Remove any single link (or even change their sequence) and you have an on-time arrival at Charles de Gaulle.
So how do those system failures fit in the chain of calamity?
Consider for a moment two cockpits. This one is the granddaddy of jet airliners – the Boeing 707 – which first flew paying passengers in 1958. This is the Airbus A-330 – which started flying the line 35 years later. Now quick: which is the more complex airplane?