Autopilot, Autothrottles Engaged in UPS Crash

** UPS Flight 1354** Courtesy of the NTSB

Raising questions about what role automation may have played in the August 14 UPS crash at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, the NTSB revealed that the Airbus A300's autopilot and autothrottles were engaged all the way to the point of impact about three quarters of a mile short of the runway.

According to the NTSB, the crew briefed the localizer approach to Runway 18 as they descended toward the airport on the 45-minute flight from Louisville, Kentucky. The captain of the Airbus A300-600 was flying with a selected approach speed of 140 knots, said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt. That speed would have been consistent with the A300 at its landing weight.

Two minutes before the end of the cockpit voice recording the A300 was cleared to land on Runway 18. As the A300 approached the airport from the north, 7 seconds prior to impact, an audible “sink rate, sink rate” warning was heard from the ground proximity warning system in the cockpit. Four seconds before impact one of the pilots announced that the runway was in sight.

The A300 struck trees short of the runway before impacting a grassy rise and bursting into flames, killing both crew members. The FAA over the weekend flight checked the PAPI system for Runway 18 and found that it was properly aligned with the approach path. Next investigators plan to fly the Runway 18 localizer approach in a UPS A300 with a qualified UPS crew to observe the company’s operating procedures.

All aircraft systems appear to have been functioning normally at the time of the crash, according to a preliminary readout of the flight data recorder. Sumwalt said controllers did not receive a minimum safe altitude warning at any point during the A300’s approach.

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