The fatal crash of a Saratov Airlines Antonov An-148 in Russia may have been tied to the frigid weather in Moscow. Initial analysis suggests that the aircraft’s pitot-static pressure sensors – devices that measure air speed and altitude – were not heated on the fateful flight. That failure led to inconsistent data between the redundant reporting systems on the flight deck. The pilots attempted to fly the aircraft manually rather than on autopilot during this time and ultimately were unsuccessful in keeping the plane aloft.
That’s scary in many ways. More concerning, perhaps, are reports that earlier in the month some Sukhoi SuperJet 100 aircraft had similar speed disagreement issues.
A series of seven incidents occurred on February 4-5, 2018, amidst heavy snowfall and frigid (-12 C/10 F) temperatures in Moscow. In each instance the aircraft either aborted its takeoff roll or returned to the origin airport.
One apparent example, Aeroflot flight SU2344 on 4 February, shows evidence of fluctuating actual air speeds as the pilots attempted to resolve the issues.
Russian aviation regulator Rosaviatsia’s initial investigation detected ice in front of the pitot tube inlet, affecting the function of those tubes. For its part Sukhoi insists that the heating system is automatic and that it is impossible for extended issues to occur with those sensors.
Still, it is hard not to see a little irony around a Russian airliner succumbing to cold weather issues.
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