Airline pilot distracted by new text messages botches landing attempt

Airline Cockpit

As detailed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, an investigation into a Jetstar flight JQ57 between Darwin to Singapore discovered that the airline captain failed to lower the landing gear during the first attempt at a landing as he was too busy with his mobile phone. While the incident occurred nearly two years ago, the details of the investigation were released this week. According to the report, the captain neglected to turn off his mobile phone prior to the 220-seat Airbus 320 taking off in Darwin, Australia. When the plane began an initial descent into Changi Airport within Singapore, the captain’s phone started beeping with new text message alerts when the plane was in between 2,500 to 2,000 feet off the ground.

Pilot TextingThe captain turned his attention to the phone during the descent and the co-pilot attempted to get the captain’s attention. After trying to alert the captain twice, the co-pilot switched off the auto-pilot during landing, but started to notice that something was wrong when the plane was just 1,000 feet off the ground.

The captain claims that he was attempting to unlock the phone in order to turn it off during this time period. When the plane was approximately 720 feet off the ground, a cockpit alert sounded to warn the pilots that the landing gear hadn’t been lowered. The captain responded by attempting to lower the landing gear at 650 feet, but a second alarm sounded as the plane dipped below 500 feet off the ground.

At this point, the landing gear was not fully extended and locked into place. The plane had to abort the landing when the aircraft was less than 400 feet off the ground and the co-pilot powered up the thrust to ascend. Both pilots were confused at the altitude at this point and claimed to have been at 800 feet above the ground. The pilots weren’t effectively communicating with each other during the incident either. After the plane ascended back above the airport, the pilots were able to land the plan safely on the second attempt.  

Jetstar Airbus

Commonly labeled a “Go-Around” by the airline industry, there were likely significant fuel costs to getting the plane back up into the air after the failed landing. The report didn’t release information regarding the number of people that were on the 2010 flight, but they were likely delayed as well. Jetstar investigators blame fatigue for the collection of mistakes that led to the botched landing attempt and the company is taking new steps to ensure the safety of passengers. Mentioned within a press release issued today, Jetstar is requiring all pilots to complete the landing checklist by 1,000 feet rather than 500. The company has also added “turn off mobile phones” to the checklist Jetstar pilots are required to complete before taking off. 

Within the release, Jetstar’s Captain Mark Rindfleish stated “Human factors, like distraction, are why airlines have so many procedural safeguards built into how they fly. The combination of factors on JQ57 has provided new learnings and the opportunity to add to these safeguards, which we take very seriously.”  As a final precaution for the future, the company is enforcing mandatory rest periods between flights so pilots won’t feel fatigued after a long flight. 

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