Did COVID19 have a role in the PK8303 accident at Karachi? At the moment only questions.

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PIA flight PK8303 met with an unfortunate accident on 22nd May 2020. The flight from Lahore to Karachi was on the final stages of the approach before landing. The crew carried out a go-around on the first approach and subsequently faced engine related issues that possibly led to failure of both engines.

It’s unfortunate to have lost lives & too early to determine the cause. It is surely the time to take some extra precautions as recommended by @icao

The crew made a valiant attempt to reach the landing runway via the shortest route but tragically the aircraft crashed short of the runway in a very densely populated locality of Karachi city. An investigation must be conducted with Human Factor specialists to come to a logical conclusion and prevent future instances.

PIA aircraft AP-BLD was a 15-year-old A-320. The world was as busy as a bee till COVID19 struck and everything came to a grinding halt. She too was given some rest and was flying regularly till 22nd March 2020.

On the ill-fated day, it was her second flight post COVID19 restrictions, the first being on 19th May, to Sharjah and back.

Crew recency

The Civil aviation of Pakistan has adhered to ICAO regulations of maintaining crew recency of 3 takeoffs and landing in preceding 90 days. No extension has been given in this clause due to COVID19 prevailing situation.

ICAO Differences COVID19

Pilot Proficiency checks

Extension of three (03) months has been granted by DG CAA, Pakistan to all pilots whose annual license renewal / IR falls due w.e.f. 13th March, 2020.. Extension of three (03) months has been granted by DG CAA, Pakistan to all pilots whose annual license renewal / IR falls due w.e.f. 13th March, 2020.

Studies have shown that more than a skill loss, there is the loss of a procedure when a person has not been practising the skill.

Uneventful flight till approach

Without any evidence, it is difficult to say conclusively but appears from the facts available that the flight from Lahore till initial approach was uneventful.

God proposed, man disposed

Apparently, the aircraft was high in terms of altitude when established on the final course to land on runway 25L at Karachi. FlightRadar24 granular data shows a height of approx. 4000ft when the ATC, as per recordings available informed the aircraft crew that they were 5 miles. This would be approx 2500ft higher than the required profile.

Prior to this , the ATC had instructed the aircraft twice, to discontinue the approach but to no avail. The crew apparently persisted with the approach descending at a very high rate of 2000ft/min or more till reaching 1500ft. The rate of descent was then lowered to 1000 ft/min.

Cleared to land

Approx. a minute after the ATC informed the crew that they were 5 miles, the flight was cleared to land. The crew read back the instructions. During the read back a continuous repetitive chime (CRC) could be heard on the available ATC tapes.

Overspeed warning?

If the aircraft was high on profile and the crew were using all their resources to push the nose down to get back, they would need to use a higher speed to lose the height faster. This is a normal tradeoff.

Could the aircraft have exceeded the maximum permissible speed for that configuration? It is highly likely and a similar CRC warning is generated. If not this then it may have been another failure but certainly not a minor one.

Why not a go-around?

Why did the crew not conduct a go-around when instructed by the ATC and other details will only be known as and when the investigation team releases the facts.

Aircraft storage

When aircraft have to be stored on ground for prolonged periods, there is a detailed procedure to be followed by the maintenance crew to ensure that systems of the aircraft do not get affected during that period.

Airbus

It is important to cover the probes where over a period of time dust can accumulate, the engine inlets and the fuel ventilation inlets must be covered too.

Fuel Vent

Research has shown that when aircraft is parked on the ground for a long time, water can enter in either vapour form or if washed in liquid for. Additionally, dust can enter too if there is adverse weather and blowing dust.

Fuel contamination study

Go-around

Nearing about 50ft, the crew did carry out a go-around which is a means of mitigating the risk of an approach and landing accident. The crew informed the ATC and there after ATC instructed them to turn towards downwind on a radar vector for another approach on runway 25L for an ILS.

The second chime

While the crew is replying to the ATC after the go-around, a second chime can be heard. This single chime is associated with a minor fault or could also be as serious as an Engine Failure. It could be anything but a single faiure.

Unable to maintain height

The ATC noticed that the aircraft was descending from the assigned height of 3000ft and informed the crew twice. The crew replied that they were maintaining then trying to maintain the height and requested for 2000ft as the new assigned height. It was approved.

Altitude data Flight Radar24

As the crow flies

Next, the ATC noticed that the aircraft was turning left towards the runway without instructions and queried. This is when the crew replied that yes, they are flying DIRECT and “We have lost ENGINES”. A ” MayDay” was declared by the crew and ATC replied that both runways were available for landing.

The aircraft was last seen descending with a high pitch angle and crashed soon after in a densely populated locality south east of the airport.

Accident site

mindFly analysis

Every accident is a sad event indeed. Not only for the loss of lives but also for the grieving near and dear ones. The aviation community is deeply affected by every loss of life and the crew on board.

At this stage, no one is in a position to conclusively provide answers to what and why this accident happened. The answers will emerge from the accident report and information release by the investigators.

I have only one issue to point out which should alert all operators. With COVID19 putting all aircraft on ground for extended time, maintenance doesn’t stop. OEM’s do have procedures to be followed for short, medium and long term storage. Similarly, there are procedures for launching the aircraft post completion of storage time.

There is a high possibility of fuel contamination during the storage period. The sediment in the tanks can settle down. Water and vapours can enter in the tanks through the vents. Microbial growth can take place during storage.

Engine condition

Engine

Prima facie there is no damage to the fan blades due to a bird hit or any FOD. The blades are not bent giving an indication that the engine was not developing thrust at impact.

High pitch with lesser fuel

A go-around is a rapid manoeuvre involving pitching the aircraft nose up and adding high thrust. This pushes the fuel in the tanks back for a while till it stabilized. If there is any pre-existing contamination, it could move too.

ICAO doc 9977 recommends a change management safety risk assessment to be carried out after by the refelling company or airport operator. After a period of no fuel uplift by aircrafts there could be contamination at their end. The Cathay Pacific A330 incident is an example of the same.

The Cathay Pacific A330 Fuel Contamination

It’s just a word of precaution and I am sure that all stakeholders are doing their best to get back to flying like before. Stay safe and keep the blue sky up.