Wednesday, December 28, 2005

WestJet Wing

According to a not-very-informative wire story WestJet B737 whacked a wing on the runway while landing at Halifax this evening. No one was hurt.

I was watching a landing once when a company plane hit a wingtip on landing. The fairing ripped off the wingtip and the airplane righted itself. No one was hurt, but all the passengers looked kind of gray as they walked off. I don't remember how many thousands of dollars it cost to inspect and repair, how many days the airplane was offline, nor whether flights had to be cancelled because of it. I remember the captain shaking his head and trying to find some point in the chain of decisions that everyone makes every flight where he could have taken a different path.

"I should have taken control earlier." [The FO was flying.]

"I should have gone around."

"I should have written up the airplane for the spool up delay on the left engine." [Turbine engines throttled back to idle never respond immediately to throttle movement, but on this one the left engine had become slower than the right engine. We solve this problem at takeoff by getting both to spool up from idle before setting take-off power.]

I know that feeling. If anything, anything goes wrong on a flight, you seek back through the decisions you made, trying to find where you could have avoided it, or at least to confirm that every decision you did make was the right one at the time. And then you wish you'd had more information. You make the conservative decision and you're wrong, you cost the company a lot of money. You make a different decision and you're wrong, you can hurt people as well as costing money. That makes it sound like a no-brainer, but there are rarely just two choices, and if you always took the most conservative path you would never go flying.

It's a horrible sick feeling to realize that you should have made a different decision, either way. And I'm talking about comparatively tiny things. We pilots are supposed to be infallable, right? Poor WestJet guys.

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