Yemenia plane may have been circuiting

Author: Associated Press

International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association, a group of over
100,000 pilots, made the claim in its daily newsletter late yesterday. It
did not give a source for this information, but it is a well-respected
industry group whose members are very familiar with airports around the
world.

The plane, which crashed in poor weather and high winds, was carrying 153
people from France to Comoros via Yemen. One teenage girl has survived, but
there is no word yet on other survivors.

The 2,900-meter (9,558-feet) long runway at Prince Said Ibrahim International
Airport on Moroni island is adequate for modern airliners. But the airport
is considered a difficult one for pilots due to prevailing weather
conditions and hills to the east of the runway. Some airlines provide
special training to pilots who need to fly in there.

“The field in question is thought of as being challenging, and certain
operators consider it a daytime-only airport,” said Gideon Ewers of the
London-based pilots’ association.

The Yemenia plane was trying to land in the dark, about 1:30 in the morning,
amid bad weather.

For planes coming in from the south, the Moroni runway is equipped with an
all-weather instrument landing system, but landings from the north are
performed visually.

The all-weather Instrument Landing System (ILS) provides precision guidance
for pilots on their final approach by projecting an electronic beam known as
the “glide path” which guides airliners in to just above the runway
threshold. This is projected on the control panel, which shows whether the
plane is on the correct heading and altitude for touchdown.

“Obviously, we prefer precision ILS approaches, but there’s nothing wrong with
VFR (visual flight rules) landings,” Ewers said. “People do them every day.”

Yesterday’s accident occurred several kilometers (miles) north of Moroni
airport, indicating that the crew ? which would likely have opted for an ILS
approach from the south in poor weather conditions ? was probably following
the path prescribed by the airport’s chart for a go-around following a
missed approach.

While the causes of this particular accident remain unclear, crashes while a
plane is landing are often caused by unfavorable weather conditions,
including wind shear.

Another frequent landing crash cause is “controlled flight into terrain” ? in
which an otherwise airworthy plane is accidentally flown into the ground or
the water, usually because of the pilots’ spatial disorientation.

Immediately after yesterday’s crash, questions also arose about the extent of
radar coverage at the Moroni airport, with some aviation experts wondering
if deficiencies in the radar may have contributed to the accident.

Mohammed Moqbel, a Yemeni pilot who has flown to the Comoros, said the final
approach at Moroni can be difficult because of the geography, weather and
the airport’s older radar.

“The airport is also very poor in terms of equipment … they don’t have
advanced radar to guide planes,” he said.

But many commercial and general aviation airports around the world that don’t
have heavy traffic are not equipped with radar or have very old radar
equipment. Instead, they rely on a set of approved procedures and on other
instruments to enable planes to land safely.

Although airports in the developed world usually have their own radar, these
are generally used for managing air traffic en route or placing planes in
holding patterns ? rather than for guiding aircraft in for the landing
itself.

“It’s perfectly safe to carry out a visual approach, provided the
meteo-conditions are good enough,” Ewers said.

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