A RYANAIR flight bound for France was reportedly “seconds away” from crashing into the ground with 172 passengers on board, according to an investigation by the French aviation authority regulator.
The Bureau of Inquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) report relates to an incident from January 2015 involving a flight travelling from London Stansted to Bergerac Airport.
According to the BEA investigation, the two pilots onboard lost “situational awareness” while travelling in poor weather conditions.
As a result, the Boeing 737 “flew too low for more than two minutes” while it made a turn in the clouds on autopilot just eight miles from the Bergerac Airport runway.
The investigation states that a “terrain warning” was subsequently given to the pilots, who were flying too low, while an automated safety system instructed them to “pull up.”
The 57-year-old captain and his 27-year-old trainee co-pilot, successfully “pulled up” in time before completing a safe landing minutes later.
However, according to the report, the Boeing 737 was a matter of seconds away from a potentially fatal disaster.
The investigation concluded that, had the plane continued to descend at 900 feet per minute, it would have touched down in just 40 seconds.
According to the report, the crew had chosen “an automated system to control the descent of their aircraft” however the “co-pilot was on a non-precision approach”, which allows for the pilots “to follow a predetermined route to a minimum altitude”.
The report pointed out the dangers of such an approach as “pilots are not allowed to descend below this minimum altitude unless they can see the runway”.
The “co-pilot did not know this” as at that point he had only clocked up “400 hours of experience”, while “the captain was unaware of this”.
The conclusion was that both the pilot and first officer's preparation for the landing were “insufficiently precise and complete”.
"This resulted in confusion by the captain over the horizontal course that was actually being taken by the aircraft,” the report said.
"This state of confusion led him to call for the premature descent of the aircraft, below the minimum security altitude."
The investigation also found that the standard instrument landing system was out of service at the airport.
The captain was also guilty of failing to use the more accurate satellite navigation equipment during the approach.
In the wake of the incident, Ryanair changed its operational procedures and instructed its pilots not to use "non precision" approaches on automatic pilot.