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Airbus A380 Under Fire 587

jose parinas writes "The security of the Airbus A380 jetliner is questioned by a U.S. Engineer that faces arrest and bankruptcy in Austria. A year ago, Mangan told European aviation authorities that he believed there were problems with a computer chip on the Airbus A380, the biggest and costliest commercial airliner ever built."
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Airbus A380 Under Fire

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  • Autopilot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cthefuture ( 665326 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:15PM (#13695510)
    The story about the plane losing pressure then flying on autopilot before crashing is interesting. Doesn't the plane know it has lost cabin pressure? If it's on autopilot why can't it reduce altitude so the people can regain consciousness? Hell, why can't it just declare an emergency and automatically land at the nearest airport after receiving an OK signal from the airport that it's safe to land.

    We have all this technology but it's implemented by idiots.
  • Offer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mysqlrocks ( 783488 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:16PM (#13695516) Homepage Journal
    TTTech has offered to drop its legal action against Mangan, court records show, and pay him three months of severance, if he retracts his statements.

    This doesn't sound like much after all he's been through.
  • Peak Oil (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:25PM (#13695549)
    Peak Oil is really hurting the airlines right now.
    The fact that air transport is heavily sensitive to fuel costs while mostly being luxury has caused it to be branded as the canary in the mineshaft for the current energy crisis.
  • by Chmarr ( 18662 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:26PM (#13695554)
    The article claims that a failure in the chip could open valves that would cause rapid decompression.

    There is NO WAY a valve could open up far enough to cause that kind of decompression. It would take several minutes to equalise with the outside air.

    The article also claims that such depressurization would cause uncomciousness 'within seconds'.

    Well, at 45,000 feet, you have 15 seconds of useful conciousness. Most craft cruise at around 38,000', where you'd have a full minute of useful conciousness... PLENTLY of time, in both cases, for you to put on supplemental oxygen masks.

    There may well be problems with that chip, but the article really hypes up the fear factor. Typical of today's journalism: just repeat what others say, dont even bother making your own analysis, and you can't be sued.
  • by guardiangod ( 880192 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:33PM (#13695587)
    Well when it concerns about the lives of 800+ men, women, and children. I think it is safe to think that we better get it right the first time around. If we don't, welll... This is not a matter of US vs world- if the plane has known flaws, yet it is still certify to fly for cost/politic reason...I want to see heads rolling- and not from my side either.
  • Re:Autopilot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:53PM (#13695674) Journal
    I don't think that's true. I flew into Boston's Logan on a very foggy night, looking out the window, I couldn't see the ground until literally a moment before the wheels touched down. After we landed, the pilot came on the PA to say that the landing was done entirely on autopilot. I'm not sure why he felt the need to share that with the passengers, but it was interesting none the less.

    It makes me wonder why they havent instituted some sort of anti-hijack system that would auto-pilot the plane to a military airport or something. Pilot radios for help, enters a code on the panel, ground does the same... and instantly, all cockpit controls are locked out unless the pilot unlocks them. Autopilot then takes the plane to a "safe" location. Seems like it would be fairly easy. If the system failed, the worst case would likely be a plane full of people landing safely at an airport that they didn't intend to go to.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 01, 2005 @08:55PM (#13695682)
    Hey, how about sharing the name of your current employer with us so we can avoid their products, knowing they have at least one morally handicapped employee ?

    Ask yourself this: what is the difference between letting a random stranger die from a product defect so you can keep your paycheck, and shooting a random stranger to take his money ?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:08PM (#13695720)
    I think you may sleep well again. It's not exactly like this is the first try at building an airplane by some startup company, is it? If you think for even a second that it's possible that a heavily surveyed and safety-concerned company like Airbus would let slip something like such an obvious flaw, then maybe you're as lunatic as poor ol' Mr. Mangan here seems to be. I mean, just have a look at his biographical details, and you can see what type of person this piece of F.U.D. is about: the worst type of geek, a half-educated dreamer that once tried to build a PC out of a TV set. What a genius, a.k.a. dork.
  • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:17PM (#13695756)
    Given that in its early days the A320 would occasionally just dive into the ground or start doing loops and Airbus's response was to have the test crew certified insane, this isn't really new. This was even after they were caught on film switching black boxes after a crash. There's details here [airdisaster.com] but it was covered by the channel 4 news at the time.

    The problem is that so many European governments are involved in the project, and so many politicians are getting "benefits" from it that it simply isn't allowed to criticise Airbus.


  • Re:ROFLMAO (Score:4, Interesting)

    by afaik_ianal ( 918433 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:22PM (#13695776)
    It doesn't seem all that silly to me..

    > > Doesn't the plane know it has lost cabin pressure?
    > No. It's a plane.
    We could replace the word "know" with "detect", and lose the patronising response altogether.

    > > If it's on autopilot why can't it reduce altitude so the people can regain consciousness?
    > Because it's on autopilot. The captain set the autopilot's target altitude, turned it on,
    > and then keeled over. The autopilot held the altitude as long as it could.
    So change the way autopilot works, which is what the OP was getting at. Clearly, something can be improved here: The fact that a plane will happily fly until it runs out of fuel, when it could probably have detected that the chances of the pilots being concious were remote at best is a part of the plane that could be designed much better.

    > > Hell, why can't it just declare an emergency and automatically land at the
    > > nearest airport after receiving an OK signal from the airport that it's safe to land[?]

    > And if it has to crash land, it can go for a nice long trip to the plane hospital, and
    > maybe the plane doctor will give it a nice lollipop! Yeah, that sounds good.
    Why the sarcastic answer on this one? Auto-landing is used all the time - see http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=48 2344 [google.com] for more info.

    Now admittedly, the accident refered to in the article happened on a Leer Jet, so they are unlikely to have the same technology as a commercial liner, but I don't think the post was deserving of your somewhat harsh response.
  • by StressGuy ( 472374 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:29PM (#13695806)
    What you are not considering is that the A380 does not yet have a TCDS. They won't get type certification in the US unless and until they show outright compliance or ELOS (equivalent level of safety - yes, the aviation industry is full of acronyms). Trust me, there is not way that veritable armies of inspectors will not "be around" as it were. You just don't bypass these regs by just getting someone to "look the other way". As Douglas once put it, "when the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the airplane, the airplane will fly" The A380 is a BIG airplane.

    Don't just dismiss the regs as easily bypassed, it has happened, but it's the exception, not the rule. Once it does happen, it's not unusual to see an entire aircraft type grounded until the matter is resolved. Airbus went through this not long ago when it was discovered that certain empannage components came from what essentially turned out to be an Italian aircraft scrapyard. They falsified documentation to make the parts appear to be remanufactured and approved.

    Pretty sure they are still in prison.

  • by SimJockey ( 13967 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:32PM (#13695815) Homepage Journal
    I've gone up against a client (big multi-national oil company) who disagreed with me on what was required for a refinery safety system I was designing. I wanted a pretty elaborate and redundant system to take care of what I will admit was a remote contingency. However it is my job to consider remote contingencies, it was what they hired my company for. But they really balked at what I was proposing.

    As much as engineers like black and white solutions, there is a lot of grey out there. In my case, I saw the deficiencies one way, they saw them another. The scenario couldn't be practically tested and the academic research on the topic was spotty and a lot of it was unpublished internal data. I ended up putting together reports with experts from two continents to convince this client that there was a problem they weren't seeing.

    Standing up on something like this is a lonely place to be. Like the article, I live with the thought of what I do can kill people if I am wrong. Makes me real cautious. But people who I report to are often non-experts, and occasionally they believe things irrationally (to me anyway) and it takes a lot of convincing to get them to see the my side. And hey, I am wrong sometimes too. But to stand up to a company that is paying your paycheque and say that you will not sign off on a design because you believe there is a problem, all the while they are screaming at you that we are behind schedule and over budget, makes for a truly shitty day at work. You get all sorts of pressure to let things go "good enough". Takes a lot of backbone and confidence for a technologist to stand up to economic pressures. We tend not to care as much for the dollars as we do for safety. I admire whistleblowers for this.
  • by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @09:32PM (#13695818)
    You seemed to have missed the point. He came forward, his story was public, a judge told him to quit talking while the case was ongoing and he didn't. You're spinning the story just like it seemed spun to me in this newspaper article. The point is what he did after he went public, after the matter went to court.
  • Career Over. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Erris ( 531066 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @10:13PM (#13696018) Homepage Journal
    Reporting to authorities on your own employer - even if there was a serious wrongdoing - is certain to end your industry career.

    If there was serious wrongdoing, your career is already over. Serious wrongdoing is defined as people dying because your company took a shortcut. Forging the engineer's signature is one such shortcut. After that, there's no real walking away. It's your signature on the approval. If things go wrong, it's your ass anyway. The mud from dissasters flies far and wide and many innocent people are often ruined as supply chains are changed in the wake of public perception.

    This is why you should never work for people you don't trust. If you get a bad feeling about anything an employer does, get out. These kinds of things never end well.

    I worked for 3 pharma companies. I would never openly challenge a company like this about their product. I would find a new employer first and then I would try to leak out what was going on - and I would be extra careful that my new and old employers would not find out it was me.

    In US aviation, at least, there are anonymous hotlines to report violations. Calls can trigger an inspection to verify compliance.

  • Re:Autopilot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by csirac ( 574795 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @10:24PM (#13696073)
    It's nothing like adding grammar check to OpenOffice, for example.

    _ALL_ features must endure full engineering analysis in its effectivness, usage, cost, failure modes, complexity, and maintenence. For this idea to be considered, all these factors must offset the expected increase in safety (preventing the very rare occurance of decompression resulting in death), and it must be a demonstrable INCREASE in safety (are the potential failure modes and their frequency likely to result in MORE deaths than it will prevent?).

    Just the mere fact that most aircraft are designed with 25 year life-cycles in mind makes the entire process almost unrecognisable to other industries.

    The people in charge of deciding what features go in to the avionics are engineers as well, not just the implementors that they assign the work to.
  • Re:His blog (Score:2, Interesting)

    by burne ( 686114 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @11:24PM (#13696333)
    Well.. I did RTFB, and I get the suspicion that Boeing isn't going to hire this guy this century. Or next. And neither will Honeywell. Both get similar flames and incoherent insults on their policies and designs.

    Perhaps we should rename this posting to 'Disgruntled Engineer pisses off most of the industry in a single day'.
  • by Thu25245 ( 801369 ) on Saturday October 01, 2005 @11:47PM (#13696406)
    Since the beginning of Airbus vs. Boeing (Indeed, since Boeing vs. Lockheed vs. Douglas) there has been one rule:

    Don't impugn the safety of the competitor's aircraft.

    By and large, these huge, competitive companies have all followed that rule. They bribed, called in political favors, exaggerated, waged huge PR campaigns against their competitors...but nobody at Airbus claims that a 737 is unsafe, and nobody at Boeing claims that an A320 is unsafe. Because everybody knows that passengers don't know squat about aircraft, and that the flying public only flies because it has faith that all flying machines are equally, perfectly, safe.

    There have been a few minor skirmishes over the years, several having to do with the number of engines needed to safely carry a plane over an ocean. But all of the players (which is, both of them now) have largely refrained from saying "The other guy's planes will fall out of the sky!"

    If this is a Boeing PR move, it's a dangerous and stupid one.
  • Still... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Sunday October 02, 2005 @03:00AM (#13697095) Homepage Journal
    He's an American (as am I, just for the record) so people might think that he's a Boeing spy. If this guy can spread even a little doubt about the safety of the A380's safety, it could end up making hundreds of millions of dollars for Boeing. There is a lot of espionage in the Aerospace industry.

    This isn't just a disagreement, someone is lying here, and with geopolitical stakes what they are, who knows...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 02, 2005 @05:28AM (#13697463)
    (1) Any modern airliner can fly automatically if the airports are suitably equipped. Nothing special about the 777.
    (2) The computer didn't "think" he was trying to land - it was a pilot error, the pilot pulled up too late and the reason why everybody always talks about the computer overriding his commands is that the computer didn't let the plane rotate as hard as he pulled up since that would've caused it to stall and the computer is designed to ensure that the plane always stays within its flight envelope (i.e. doesn't stall) and is thus always under control. So the plane was doomed the very moment when the pilot didn't pull up when he should have but the difference is that if the computer hadn't overridden his commands it would've fallen straight down instead of hitting the trees.

    You seem to be a Boeing fan so I doubt that you'll even try to accept the Airbus design philosophy, which is that instead of having the pilot tell the aircraft exactly what to do, the pilot tells the aircraft "do this as you see fit, since you're better at it than I am". The aforementioned accident did of course happen but an Airbus has a better chance of surviving such a situation where an aircraft has to pull up as fast as it possibly can without stalling since in a Boeing the pilot has to manually throttle up and control the aircraft based on what the instruments tell him whilst a pilot in an Airbus simply pulls up as much as possible and then the computer takes care of the rest (applies throttle and ensures the highest possible angle of attack without stalling). If you wish to critisize Airbus for something, pick something sane instead - such as some of their "user interface" designs. About ten years ago a French Airbus suffered a controlled flight into terrain accident since the pilot entered the descent rate as a descent angle instead, which - technically - of course was a pilot error but I'd rather blame the design since the descent angle or rate is entered with the same display and knob with only a small led next to it indicating which you're entering. Personally, I consider the Airbus philosophy better since pilots are still human beings and computers can be programmed to perform specific tasks according to given data better than any human being (such as a rapid ascent which requires careful monitoring of several flight instruments) and computers never get tired, nervous or distracted. I doubt that we'll ever see a crash caused by a computer error since an Airbus is equipped with several independently developed systems (different hardware and software but exactly the same specifications, of course) and if one system gets a different result than the others or finishes late it is restarted once and shut down if it fails again (the A380 has 32 such systems IIRC).
  • by Slashamatic ( 553801 ) on Sunday October 02, 2005 @05:46AM (#13697508)
    For the A320, all critical systems used a minimum of two chip architectures and 3 independent software solutions working from the same closely controlled spec but otherwise not communicating. A friend worked on one of the computers there.

    I can't see what would be different for the 380. the only point is whether the pressure control system was considered to be critical enough to be fully backed up.

  • by Joseph Mangan ( 919612 ) <jmangan@eaawatch.net> on Sunday October 02, 2005 @06:01AM (#13697527) Journal
    This message is from Joe Mangan jtrm jtrm 2 194 2005-10-02T09:37:00Z 2005-10-02T09:37:00Z 1 2660 15164 Home 126 30 18622 9.2720 0 0

    This message is from Joe Mangan

    www.eaawatch.net [eaawatch.net]

    www.joseph.mangan.name [mangan.name]

    www.joseph.mangan.com [mangan.com]

    The Commercial Aircraft Industry economic business model is seriously flawed, and is actively engaged in transferring financial risk from Corporations to threats to the lives of the passengers and crew without their informed consent.

    This issue is not about AIRBUS vs BOEING, this is AIRBUS and Boeing, and FAA, and EASA, and the Aircraft system suppliers and their sub suppliers. This is about all of the elements of the system being under tremendous pressure to be overly aggressive in the use of untested, unproven, low cost technology containing high uncertainty. The use of technology of high uncertainty always results in projects taking far longer to complete and costing far more than originally planned. This is project risk, and risk is nearly always significantly underestimated in project planning of modern Aerospace Programs. In essence we have the worlds biggest game of ?Russian Roulette?. With Boeing and Airbus gambling that the other will

    Pull the trigger on the chamber containing the live round, thus ending the game. I believe that what we are about to see if the combatants do not ?throttle back? is the ?story of the 3 Japanese fighting fish?, where the smart fish (China, India, Japan) allows the other 2 fish to fight to the death, leaving the survivor too weak to defend against the attach of the stronger smarter fish who wins unopposed.

    I feel a great sympathy and compassion for those who failed the morality test, challenged with facing the agonizing decision over career and wealth, vs the cost to human lives of their choice. My Christian conscience would not allow me to look the other way, realizing that for my own comfort and security, I would have to knowingly rationalize my own selfish interest, and thereby place at risk the lives of innocent Men, Women, and Children.

    I have waited an entire year (October 2004) in a tireless pursuit to work with AIRBUS, Nord Micro, TTTech, EASA, and FAA to correct these issues in private. These organizations refused to take any action. I was left with no other avenue than to pursue the issue in the public domain one year later. I had simply exhausted every opportunity available to me. I even visited the CEO of Nord Micro in his booth at the Paris Airshow, spending 40 minutes with him and his engineers in an attempt to convince them to act in the interest of public safety. Numerous failed attempts in good faith with TTTech are documented on my website. In each and every case, TTTech violated agreed to terms, and demanded in each case a retraction of my official statements to EASA and FAA, which has always been understood to be non-negotiable.

    Are these people who failed the moral challenge evil? No, they must decide what is more important to them, the lives of people vs profit, comfort, and security for themselves. The laws currently favor those who choose profit over safety. Protections and safeguards, even in the United States are insufficient to motivate a whistleblower to put themselves and their families in ?harms way?. One only need to look at the Corporate Crime Spree of WORLDCOM, ENRON, TYCO, ADELPHIA, HEALTHSOUTH and others.

    Conscience can only motivate a whistleblower to act first in the interest of others.

    When confronted by Executive Management with data showing the program is significantly over schedule and over budget, direct pressure is applied to find a way to ?get back on schedule?. Just as with the WORLDCOM case of Ebbers, all that must be said, is that ?we have to make our numbers?, and th

  • Re:ha (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 02, 2005 @11:27AM (#13698449)
    I stopped meta-moderating because the politics section appeared (I'm right-wing and I can't STAND reading the politics section's comments: they are so full of hate and so far left very often. There is no respect and the most hateful vitriol can end up +5 Insightful fast.)

    Amusingly, as a left-winger I feel exactly the same way: Slashdot's politics section is stupidly biased towards right-wingers and libertarians, and the comments that get modded up to +5, Insightful are generally right-wingers bashing liberals and left-wingers and accusing us of communism and hating America and so forth.

    The fact that we both feel the same way, coming from opposite sides of the political spectrum, rather implies that the discussion is remarkably balanced, don't you think?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 02, 2005 @11:57AM (#13698589)
    I would be quite amazed that any company in the modern litigious world would forge a signature to get a part as critical to safety as this one passed when knowing that the part was sketchy.

    General Electric (GE Healthcare) does this all the time with medical devices. They've forged my signature on engineering approvals several times. And told me there's nothing I can do about it. Apparently, the FDA agrees with them. Of course, now they're busy trying to sniff out who reported them.

    I don't know about the other GE divisions, but I'm suspicious of them by association.

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