It’s amazing – and troublesome, and potentially dangerous – how one mistake in using hi-tech navigational equipment can ruin your day or, such as it is, your international flight. This was the fate of an AirAsia X flight out of Sydney that was originally bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, when the flight captain flubbed the coordinates he entered in the aircraft’s navigation system before takeoff, and tricked it into thinking that it was on another continent entirely.
As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, the report published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the incident, which actually happened on March a year ago, stated that the AirAsia X flight was subject to a series of procedural errors stemming from a random accident that ultimately ended with it suffering technical difficulties in flight.
The problems started when a fault in the flight crew’s earmuff headsets forced the flight captain and the first officer to switch what they were doing during preflight procedures. Normally the captain would be checking on the aircraft’s exterior while the first officer remained in the cockpit to do system checks and calibrate the GPS navigation. They ended up doing each other’s job.
While manually entering the flight’s position into the navigational system, the captain misread their present coordinates on a sign outside the cockpit window. Instead of entering Sydney’s actual longitudinal coordinates of 15109.8 east (151 degrees 9.8 minutes east), he typed in 01519.8 east (15 degrees 19.8 minutes east). Checked against a map, that put the plane somewhere close to the city of Cape Town, in South Africa. That’s a whole different continent from Australia!
Now with a positional error of 11,000 kilometers off their real position, the AirAsia flight took off none the wiser of the mistake. That is until they switched to autopilot and felt their plane turning to the left instead of right. That meant the navigation thought they were flying eastward and turned left northwards, rather that westward and heading right. The ATSB report described the error as having “adversely affected the aircraft's navigation functions, global positioning system (GPS) receivers and some electronic centralized aircraft monitoring alerts."
Forced to turn the autopilot off, the pilots tried to head back to Sydney but was warned off by air traffic control due to low clouds obscuring the runway. With no other choice, the flight requested clearance to land at Melbourne, which they did nearly two hours after taking off. With no other faults found in the aircraft after emergency inspection, the same crew took their plane from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur with no other hassles.
The aircraft in question was made by Airbus, which at the time of being purchased by AirAsia X had not received navigation system updates that would have prevented the error from happening. Similar incidents involving Airbuses took place in Sydney since 2007.
Photo Credit to www.transportesemrevista.com