18 months ago today, an Airbus A330-300 registered 9M-XXM and operated by Malasia-based Air Asia X, departed Sydney on a scheduled passenger flight to Kuala Lumpur. A data entry error by the crew at the gate led to a progressive failure of the aircraft's navigation systems and then the aircraft's flight guidance and flight control systems, leading to a diversion to Melbourne.
Three days ago, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) published the final report on the incident. Numerous press accounts began with sensationalist headlines suggesting that the flight unknowingly went the wrong way and landed in Melbourne.
The ATSB report makes clear that problems became apparent immdeiately after rotation during take-off from runway 16R when the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) activated with a TERRAIN alert. Shortly thereafter, while climbing through 410 ft, the autopilot was engaged and the aircraft began an unexpected left turn which was soon detected by Air Traffic Control (ATC) and reported to the flight crew. With radar-based assistance from ATC, the flight crew flew away from Sydney traffic and attempted to restore the aircraft's systems. These actions resulted in degraded flight systems whereupon the flight crew notified ATC that they wished to discontinue the flight and return to Sydney but that they could only conduct a visual approach. ATC advised that weather at Sydney had deteriorated such that a visiaul approach was not possible, which led to the diversion to Melbourne.
Today's Featured Map shows the direct paths from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur and to Melbourne (not the actual path flown during the diversion), and also marks the erroneous location entered in the aircraft's Air Data and Inertial Reference System (ADIRS), a location in the Atlantic Ocean just west of South Africa. The ATSB report should be consulted for further details of the incident.
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Karl L. Swartz.
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