Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said following yesterday’s Germanwings 4U 9525 air disaster in France:

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“Plane crashes can occur for various reasons – severe weather conditions, pilot error or mechanical failure. Early data suggests that the Germanwings flight 4U 9525 disaster could be the result of a combination of mechanical failure and pilot error.

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“While we don’t know exactly what happened, we can potentially rule out sudden decompression as the plane made a relatively controlled descent of about 3,000 to 4,000 feet per minute. This could suggest that the pilot was struggling to control the pitch of the aircraft, due to a servo actuator or hydraulic failure, and was therefore unable to achieve sufficient altitude to clear the mountains. Servo actuators provide pilots with feedback or error-correction signals which help control the aircrafts position and speed. However, we will need to wait for the flight data recorder to confirm this.

“It’s vital that the findings of the Accident Investigation Branch into this accident are used to help prevent this type of disaster happening again.

“One of the major improvements we could make to flight safety would be the introduction of real-time information being sent from the aircraft to the ground, which would mean we would never ‘lose’ an aircraft in the future. The current commercial aircraft monitoring system revolves around land-based radar as well as a secondary radar on the plane which sends out a signal pinpointing its location, but this can be shut down in the cockpit. Introducing the wide-scale use of satellite technology to air travel would allow us to continuously track all aircraft and monitor any potential issues, but we would need an international agreement to ensure all commercial aircraft use it.”

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