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FutureStarrA Software Bug Caused Two Alaska Airlines Flights to Suffer Tailstrikes on Departure
On January 26, two Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii experienced tailstrikes upon takeoff. Alaska Flight 801 left Seattle at 8:48 am and was bound for Kona.
Alaska's pilots and others use a performance calculation tool provided by DynamicSource, a Swedish company, to set their thrust and speed settings for takeoff.
On January 26th, two Alaska Airlines 737s experienced tail strikes during takeoff and the airline's duty director of operations immediately ordered all flights not yet airborne to remain grounded. As reported by The Seattle Times, these incidents were due to a software bug which undercounted take-off performance weight data for some flights. Flight performance software uses this information to calculate accurate power settings and rotation speeds for pilots during takeoff - however due to incorrect data both aircraft took off too early with less thrust than necessary for optimal performance as reported by The Seattle Times.
Both aircraft were forced to stop on the ground and a crew was dispatched to fix the issue. A few hours later, both aircraft were repaired and cleared for flight again; furthermore, both airlines and FAA determined that both took off within approved safety limits despite these mishaps. These incidents serve as reminders that aviation can be highly volatile; maintaining vigilance is key in order to keep passengers safe. However, these mishaps don't need to be devastating; oftentimes they can be avoided with some forward planning.
On 26 January, two Alaska Airlines 737s took off from Seattle and landed in Hawaii within minutes of each other. When the company's director of operations ordered all flights to remain grounded until they could identify what went wrong, he found the cause: software used for takeoff calculations that undercounted weight by up to 20,000 pounds - leading to calculations with too little thrust and premature rotations.
The most amazing part is that Alaska was able to resolve their issue in time to resume operations. This feat shows how committed their staff members are at Alaska Airlines. Furthermore, it serves as a testament to how paramount safety should always come first for both passengers and crew alike.
On January 26th, two Alaska Airlines flights took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when both suffered tailstrikes. Flight 887, traveling from Seattle to Honolulu, and Flight 801 headed for Kona were lined up on runway 16L when their pilots felt a bump and cabin crew heard scratching sounds.
At 14,000 feet, the first aircraft, a Boeing 737-900ER with registration N468AS, stopped its climb and returned to the airport for a safe landing around 40 minutes later. Meanwhile, eight and half years old 737-900ER N971AK was preparing to take off for Honolulu when it too struck the runway.
Peyton and his team immediately shut down all Alaska Airlines operations to investigate what had caused the two tailstrikes. It soon transpired that a software bug had been sending inaccurate takeoff weight data to pilots, leading to both incidents.
Thankfully, neither flight suffered major damage to either their aircraft or passengers. Both 737s were back in service within a day and a half of each other.
As far as fixing the software bug goes, the primary objective should be is isolating the problematic line of code. Once you identify which specific method and its parameters caused the crash, it will become much simpler to figure out how to prevent a repeating occurrence.
Once a problem has been identified, the next step is to systematically test it under various conditions. This includes testing with various platforms, operating systems and hardware configurations.
It's essential to attempt and replicate the bug as accurately as possible. For instance, if you have access to an aircraft's cockpit computer, testing its capability to perform takeoff and landing in identical conditions should be conducted.
Finally, if the software can't accurately calculate the correct power setting for takeoff, it won't be able to perform an accurate landing.
Airlines typically utilize a Safety Management System (SMS) that helps them detect and resolve bugs more quickly. Once an error is identified, the airline takes several steps to prevent a repeat occurrence; updating passenger loading procedures to guarantee even distribution of passengers, having flight attendants perform visual checks before telling pilots the cabin is ready for departure, sharing this process data with the FAA so inspectors are aware of these adjustments when performing routine audits on operations at their facilities.
On January 26th, two Alaska Airlines flights in Hawaii experienced tailstrikes within minutes of one another - an occurrence many people would have overlooked had it not been for duty director of operations Bret Peyton's alarm.
Alaska Airlines flights not yet airborne were grounded until a fix could be found, and it's fortunate they did since a software bug had caused incorrect takeoff weight data to pilots.
Airlines often rely heavily on technology for their day-to-day operations. But while technology can be a lifesaver for some, it also poses risks if not properly managed.
Recent aircraft tail strikes in Seattle were caused by software that suggested pilots should use higher power settings than usual, but did so in an unsafe way.
Thankfully, the bug only occurred when in use - which allowed crews to identify it quickly.
A software bug was causing it to send inaccurate data to flight crews on some of Boeing's most important aircraft, including two Boeing 737-900ER jets. This presented an issue as these planes all feature state-of-the-art flight control systems designed to prevent pilots from overusing rotors in flight.
If you want to fix a software bug, the first step is learning TDD and testing. That means understanding the difference between crash tests and functional tests, as well as finding an organized framework for both. Once you understand these concepts, it will be much easier to identify critical bugs and create an action plan to address them.