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Alerting systems failures common in commercial aviation accidents

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2022 | Commercial Airline Accidents

A commercial plane has an alerting system intended to make pilots aware of unsafe conditions or hazards. Ideally, the pilot of a plane can then take steps to manage the hazard or avoid it completely.

NASA reports the results of a study intended to determine the effectiveness of alerting systems in large commercial planes. It analyzed 46 aviation accidents and incidents involving large commercial planes and found that alerting system failures factored into 42 of them. Here are a few of the most common of these failures.

Failure to detect

To alert the flight crew to a possible hazard, the system has to be able to detect them. Some of the accidents and incidents covered in the study resulted from a failure of the system to detect potential hazards, such as dangerous proximity to the ground.

Failure to alert

Sometimes it is not a matter of the system failing to detect a hazard but failing to provide the necessary warning. This was an issue in 17 of the 42 accidents and incidents analyzed in the study. Most often, the system failed to alert pilots to airspeed that was lower than normal.

Alert not understandable

In six of the accidents and incidents included in the study, the system provided an alert of a hazard but did not make clear what it was. As a result, the flight crew knew that there was an unsafe situation but did not know what kind of action to take to correct it.

In some of these failures, including the ambiguous alert, it is not clear the extent to which the alerting failure was the result of human error and how much is due to a problem with the system itself.