First consequences

This is what AUA has to say about the accusations

15.06.2024 14:40

Following the spectacular landing approach of an Austrian Airlines (AUA) aircraft at Vienna-Schwechat Airport due to a hailstorm, the airline is now facing numerous accusations. The central question is whether the pilots underestimated the situation.

According to Austro Control, which is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of air traffic in Austrian airspace, the storm was known. "We ask for your understanding that we are not commenting on ongoing investigations and are awaiting the results of the investigation," said AUA when asked.

The company emphasized on Saturday that, in addition to an internal investigation that has already been initiated, the Federal Safety Investigation Board (SUB) will also initiate an external investigation, which must be awaited.

Pilot crew released from duty for seven days
The pilots have now been released from duty for seven days - as is usual in such cases, emphasized AUA. After evaluating the flight data and initial findings, the affected Airbus A320 crew will be scheduled for coordinated training or instruction if necessary. Once this has been completed, the crew will be returned to flight duties - also with the support of flight instructors.

According to Austro Control, thunderstorms were known
According to AUA, the thunderstorm cell was not visible to the cockpit crew on the weather radar. However, the flight meteorology department of the Austrian aviation authority Austro Control pointed out the "risk of thunderstorms with hail in the region" for the period of the requested flight.

(Bild: Leserreporter/zVg)

The "weather forecasts and event-related weather warnings for en-route traffic in accordance with international standards" were also published. This aviation-specific weather information would be used in particular before the flight to prepare and plan the intended route, which would be submitted and specified by the airline in the respective flight plan. This weather data is updated around the clock for airlines and pilots.

Why was the storm not avoided?
However, Austro Control emphasized that air traffic control does not issue instructions on weather-related flight route changes during a flight. "Only the pilot in command can and may make the decision about a necessary diversion on the basis of the information available on board about the specific weather situation directly in front of the respective aircraft, in particular by means of on-board weather radar." Critics are therefore now asking why the pilots did not fly around the storm.

One pilot was allegedly not in the cockpit
Allegedly, the pilot was in the toilet at the very time - the plane was already descending. This is the result of research by aviation journalist Patrick Huber - reported. Regardless of the weather, there is much more to do in this phase of the flight than at cruising altitude, which is why it is generally the case that both passengers should be in their seats during this phase, wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

A young female first officer, who only had around 100 hours of experience on the Airbus A320, may have been sitting in the next seat. She may also not have been as experienced in interpreting weather radar images, wrote Huber in an article in the aviation magazine "Austrian Wings". AUA commented: "Media reports that a person should only have one hundred hours of flying experience are not correct."

The Airbus A320 en route from Palma de Mallorca to Vienna was caught in the thunderstorm cell over Hartberg in Styria last Sunday. Initially, the emergency call "Mayday" was made. However, the plane landed safely at Vienna Airport and no one was injured.

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