New Germanwings Data Causes Slow Motion Journalistic Mishap

CNN’s Brianna Keilar interviews CNN safety analyst David Soucie, CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien, former United Captain Kit Darby, and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes. It’s a mixed bag if you’re a pilot:

0:15 There’s a flight data recorder (FDR) on set. It’s a box. It provides us zero information. Are we so addicted to visuals that CNN has to obtain one to show on the set? Unfortunately, in our society that question answers itself.

0:38 A somewhat good question from Keilar – she was briefed well on the door switch options in the A320. Soucie replied that the airplane was an older version that didn’t have a channel to record the position of the switch. This might not be important: the “Lock” option freezes the door for only 5 minutes, and the descent lasted 9:47. Lubitz had to have been awake to repeatedly choose “Lock”. The idea that he fell unconscious doesn’t work, because the Captain would have been able to re-enter after 5 minutes to find Lubitz slumped over his tray table. Even if the FDR recorded the switch position, it could only verify this.

1:30 A question about the increasing “speed” of the descent – Darby answers well and shows he’s familiar with the “Expedite Descent” option of the A320. GW9525 descended with an average vertical speed of more than 3,000 feet per minute; to achieve this, Lubitz most likely pushed this button. The question contains an error commonly committed by journos covering aviation – the idea that while the airplane is on autopilot, the pilot is not flying. This isn’t true – while using autopilot, the pilot is simply not handling the controls manually. Controlling the parameters of the autopilot is flying. Left unexplained is the reason the airplane apparently exceeded maximum speed. This isn’t out of the question with an autopilot as these systems aren’t perfect.

2:07 Keilar responds to Darby by acknowledging that an expedited descent is a “normal skill” (good choice of words) but here used “in a manner not meant to be employed.” I’ll say! Understatement of the year.

2:10 And here we go off the rails. Keilar wants to know whether the airplane could have been taken over by ground controllers to avoid the increase in speed or “route being changed”. I’m assuming by the latter she meant the dive, because GW9525 stayed on route and descended into a mountain. O’Brien’s initial response is sad; his tired rant that pilots just “manage systems” and that the airplane “overrules the pilot” are red herrings bearing no significance to the question. Lubitz definitely was in control of that airplane and Airbus Normal Law protections were not in play. O’Brien then contradicts Darby, who referred to the increase in aircraft airspeed, by stating that it was an increase in the rate of descent; the rate of descent appears to be pretty constant according the the vertical profile in the video in this post. Also, O’Brien talks about the “autothrottles” (which is incorrect as Airbus uses the term “autothrust”; did O’Brien forget to do his homework?) maintaining the airspeed – however, nobody has mentioned hearing the engines spool up. The end result of his unfortunate foray into the GW cockpit is just confusion. His opposition to having ground controllers take over airplanes is solid, and provides the best quote of the day at 3:33: “Eventually you have to trust the person driving the bus. We should be focused on making sure the person in that seat is trustworthy.” Amen. Keilar then spoils it with more ignorant psuedo-facts about pilot over-reliance on automation. I wish these anchors would learn more about this topic.

3:51 Keilar asks Fuentes about Lufthansa’s legal liability in this crash. He assures us that the company will be financially OK. What a relief!


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