What Goes On At The Air Accident Investigation Branch
The general explanation of how the AAIB goes about its work emphasised that its aim is to determine the causes of air accidents and serious incidents – not to apportion blame. As well as comprehensive operational and technical skills, people skills are very important when talking to those affected by an accident.
We visited the data recorder laboratory, which is where the “black box” is taken after an accident. The black box is neither black nor a box. It is bright orange, to be more easily located after a crash. It consists of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. The earlier large and heavy versions have largely been replaced by much lighter digital versions capable of storing several hours of data and cockpit voice. An important skill of the AAIB is to be able to recover data from badly damaged devices and to break into encrypted data sources that may shed light on the causes of the accident. A surprising fact is that the earliest flight data recorder was carried by the Wright brothers!
The hangar contains the remains of (mostly) smaller aircraft, which are painstakingly reassembled to discover the nature of the failure. The damaged parts can sometimes be kept for a long time. In some cases, for historic aircraft of which very few examples still exist, the aircraft can be restored for ground display if not to flying condition. The two inspectors, who accompanied us for the visit, explained the circumstances of several of the accidents, together with fascinating accounts of the detective work to determine the root cause.
An AAIB investigation team consists of both engineers and pilots, to understand both the operational and technical circumstances of the accident. The pilot investigators will typically have several thousand hours logged time and, importantly, remain current by flying on an occasional basis for commercial airlines. The engineers must have a correspondingly extensive technical experience.
Because of the interest generated by this visit, which was heavily oversubscribed, the Aerospace TPN are planning another event next year in March, so watch this space for the announcement.
Did you participate in the 2018 visit? If you did we'd love to hear your thoughts on the visit and what you found interesting.
Report by Bob Darby, Aerospace TPN Executive Team member
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