A birthday, loss of Air France 447, loss of a sister — what a day

The Chinese have a saying

May you live in interesting times

Yesterday, June 1, 2009 was certainly interesting to say the least.

The day began mixed. My son celebrated his birthday, while my sister was battling for her life in hospital. By 3:30pm (10:00Z) reports started filtering in about Air France’s flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris being overdue. By the evening the AF447 story snowballed, and then . . . . my sister passed away.

What a day — celebration, hope, despair and sorrow.

I had planned to bring you a five part interview with Bengaluru International Airport Limited CEO Marcel Hungerbuehler on the BIA airport past present and future, starting yesterday but events have overtaken me. I request your understanding and permission to commence it later in the week.

Coming back to Air France AF447, various reports are suggesting that there was a flurry of ACARS messages of a string of system failures which started to stream in from 02:10Z. These messages seem to indicate disengagement of the autopilot, problems with the ADIRU (Air Data Inertial Reference Unit), ISIS (Integrated Standby Instrument System), and an advisory message on “cabin vertical speed”, read this as turbulence making the plane rise up or fall too fast.

The ADIRU and cabin vertical speed messages raise the spectre of previous problems the Airbus A330 has had with ADIRUs and in-flight upsets. There have been two incidents in the past, both involving Qantas A330s, one at Learmonth and another near Perth, based on which both the European EASA and FAA have issued Emergency Airworthiness Directives (EADs). Australia’s CASA has also issued EADs regarding the ISIS units on the A330s back in 2004.

For certain, AF447 has flown in to some extremely severe weather. What impact it had on the various systems is to be determined.

I came across two articles that provide a good detailed overview on what might have happened to Air France AF447. One from Simon Hradecky which provides a good aviation perspective. The other is from Tim Vasquez which is a fantastic meteorological analysis.

Both articles are a “must read”.

In the mean time, there are reports of small pieces of debris that have been found 650 km (400 miles) north of the islands of Fernando de Noronha off Brazil’s northern coast. The debris, comprising metal objects and aircraft seats, is near where the last contact was made with AF447, but without a serial number it will be impossible to say for a fact.

Hopefully, weather information gathered by Lufthansa jets in the area under the World Meteorological Organization’s Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay Programme (AMDAR) may provide clues.

In the meantime, my prayers for the 228 souls who perished in addition to my sister.

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About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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