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Are Flight Crews Overloaded During Pre-Flight Preparations?

Since the 1990's, technological advancements in the cockpit like automation have been credited with making flying safer. But even with these improvements, there have still been about a dozen incidents in the past 20 years when flight systems were compromised by flight crews inputting faulty data.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Airplane-cockpit-lighter.jpgTake a recent Air France cargo flight, for example. Last month, pilots were forced to recover the Air France plane during take off after discovering that the wrong data had been entered into the flight computer. The Boeing 777 freight plane failed to generate enough speed as it departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, the pilots didn't notice the mistake until the last second.

According to Reuters, the pilots entered a drastically lower weight into the control system of the Mexico-bound plane, resulting in the engines producing less power. In order to get the plane off the ground and avoid a disaster, the pilots were forced to override the system and throttle the plane's engines to maximum power.

A 2008 French aviation study found that slow and underpowered takeoffs can cause pilots to lose control of the aircraft. The worst example of this happened in October 2004 when an MK Airlines Boeing 747-200 overshot the runway at an airport in Halifax, Canada. The aircraft crashed and caught fire, killing all seven crew members aboard the plane.

In response to last month's mishap, Air France grounded the flight crew that entered the wrong data. It was the second time this month that the airline was forced to ground a flight crew-another crew was grounded for nearly hitting Mount Cameroon, an active volcano in Central Africa.

Aviation safety experts worry that these errors may be attributable to what is referred to as the "hurry-up syndrome," which can occur when flight crews are overloaded or distracted during pre-flight preparations. With flight traffic increasing and pilots unions feeling that they are overstretched as it is, some worry that these lapses may become more frequent.

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