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June 23, 2017

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Lack of vigilance root cause of plane crash

No matter how vigilant people are, someone, somewhere will err sometimes.

This piece attempts to focus on the horrendous air accident that killed almost the entire Chapoceoence football team of Brazil headed to Medellin (Colombia) for Copa Sudamericana finals. The team flew from Santa Cruz (Bolivia) for the 1605 nautical mile trip onboard the Bolivian Charter Airline LaMia.

Cumulative Error

Even with improvements in various aspects of air safety globally, air accidents will continue to take place. Accidents have become progressively less frequent over the years. The most each airline and overseeing agencies can do is to identify and correct deficiencies primarily under Operations/Maintenance/Training (OMT) headings. Ideally, anomalies need to be identified in advance, but it is easier said than done. No matter how vigilant one is, someone, somewhere along the task chain, involving hundreds of people, will err sometime. Over time, it can result in a minor incident if one is lucky, or end up as a major disaster like LaMia recently.

The aircraft used by the Bolivian charter airline LaMia was a British-made, BAe-146 (or AVRO RJ85) able to seat a maximum of 112 flyers. Although it is the smallest passenger jet, it comes with four engines. It was conceived as a feeder airline that could easily connect the London City Airport with smaller airports in far-flung corners. Naturally, it had to have a short take-off capability and do so quietly. In fact, the first two BAe146, with two engines, were built but discarded. Engines available in the 1980s did not meet the required thrust and noise characteristics to make them viable with just two. Having found a lesser thrust engine that met both requirements, it ended up being a four-holer. In fact, its engines are so small that it is often referred to as the only airplane with 5-APUs. Auxillary Power Unit is a tiny, unseen jet engine in the tail cone of all jets that provides electricity while on the ground. The BAe146 can quietly climb out from most small airports, including hot and high ones.

Adequate Fuel

LaMia is seen as having a questionable history. It operated charter flights with a fleet of just two. One cannot help but shake one's head in disbelief upon seeing the blatant flaw in the flight plan. It does not require an expert to see the violation and blame a lackadaisical attitude for the accident. It showed "flight time" to Medellin and total "endurance" as exactly the same. Endurance is the duration an aircraft can remain airborne with the amount of fuel on board. That means Flt-2933 would have its fuel tank dry after 4 hours and 22 minutes As the said time elapsed, the aircraft ran out of fuel and it crashed, killing 71.

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