Sunday 20 March 2022

Wasps wreaking havoc on planes at Brisbane Airport

A wasp population is wreaking havoc on planes and impacting aviation technology at Brisbane airport, with ecologists working to solve the problem. The invasive keyhole wasp, only found at Brisbane airport is the species behind the infestation, creating problems for aviation crews by making mud nests inside pilot tubes, a hollow device used to calculate the plane's speed.

MALAYSIA A330-323 9M-MTK (MSN 1388)

Covers for the tubes have been deemed the best solution to the problem, but in 2018 a Malaysian Airlines flight took off with the covers still in place. As a consequence, crews were unable to determine the plane's speed, putting all on board at risk. The results of an investigation into the incident have just been released. "The consequences of taking off without reliable airspeed indicators can be catastrophic, and it has played out that way around the world in the past," Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

"There was a number of points along the way and a number of decisions that were missed that should have kept that plane on the ground."

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released the final report from its systemic investigation into a serious incident where a Malaysia Airlines Airbus A330 with 14 crew and 215 passengers on board took off from Brisbane Airport with no airspeed information.

Shortly after the aircraft arrived in Brisbane from Kuala Lumpur on the 18th July 2018, a support engineer placed covers on the aircraft’s three pitot probes (airspeed sensors) to prevent them from being blocked by mud wasps, a known hazard at Brisbane Airport.

However, during the turnaround and before the aircraft departed for the return flight to Kuala Lumpur the covers were not removed. This was despite there being requirements for multiple walk-around checks by the aircraft captain, engineer and dispatch coordinator, all intended to identify unsafe conditions such as the fitment of pitot probe covers.

Consequently, the aircraft’s primary instrument displays showed red speed flags in place of airspeed indications from early in the take‑off, and the flight crew did not respond in time for the take-off to be safely aborted.

Once airborne the flight crew climbed the aircraft to 11,000 feet where they performed troubleshooting and other procedures, including shutting down the aircraft’s air data systems. This activated a system installed on some Airbus aircraft called the back up speed scale (BUSS), which displayed a safe flight envelope for flight crew to maintain.

Using the BUSS and airspeed management procedures, and assisted by air traffic control, the flight crew brought the aircraft safely back to Brisbane.
On the night, several individuals from different organisations had separate, key roles in detecting aircraft damage or other unsafe conditions such as the fitment of pitot probe covers. However, these checks were omitted entirely or only partially completed, for a variety of reasons including inadequate communication and reduced diligence.

“Had all the relevant pre-flight inspections been completed, and conducted thoroughly, it is very likely that the pitot probe covers would have been seen and removed,” Mr Mitchell noted.

A report from the ATSB said the wasps have now spread beyond control.
Ecologist Alan House is working with Brisbane Airport to solve the problem.
"The wasps as far as this study showed preferred Boeing 737s and A320, A330," he said.
"Eradication... would not have been too difficult 10 years ago.

Aircraft Information:
Airline: Malaysia Airlines
Code: MH/MAS
Aircraft: Airbus A330-323
Registration: 9M-MTK
Serial Number: 1388
Engine:  2 x PW PW4168A
First Flew: 30/01/2013
Test Registration: F-WWYT

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