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Excessive Aural Warnings in Cockpit Contribute to Crash of Jet Aircraft at London Area Airport

On July 4, 2015, a two-engine Embraer Phenom 300 business jet, with one pilot and three passengers aboard, crashed after the aircraft left the runway shortly after landing.

The experienced pilot who had flown into the London-area airport on several prior occasions decided to continue a high-speed, steep visual approach to the runway instead of opting to go around and attempt a second approach. The aircraft crossed the runway threshold on the glide scope but was traveling approximately 45 knots above target speed. The 13 degree nose-down attitude of the aircraft was considered extreme. The aircraft touched down 2,330 feet beyond the threshold and the pilot began braking heavily. The aircraft ran out of runway, hit an embankment, and then bounced into cars parked in a lot beyond it, shedding a wing.

Great Britain’s version of the NTSB conducted a thorough investigation of the accident, including reviewing all of the flight data recorders. The accident data indicated that the pilot heard no fewer than 36 computer-generated, aural warning transmissions in the cockpit in the last 2 minutes and 19 seconds of flight.

In its conclusions relating to the cause of the accident, the investigatory team concluded that the pilot received excessive stimulation from the aural warnings which distracted him and provoked mental stressors resulting on the pilot’s fixation to continue the approach toward the short runway at an excessive angle and at a higher-than-reasonable speed. In short, a warnings overload clouded the pilot’s judgment.

The company operating the charter jet now requires a crew of two pilots on its aircraft and set new rules for final approaches to be stabilized with moderate pitch attitude and aircraft speed. The company further emphasizes to its pilots that if there is any doubt about the attitude and speed of the aircraft on approach, they should conduct a go-around and attempt another landing.

The irony of this tragic accident is that the comprehensive avionics computer programs designed to warn a pilot of danger may be so intrusive as to contribute to a catastrophe.

Written by: Keith Lovendosky, attorney at Bailey & Partners