This week, the United Kingdom’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) released a report into a flight which landed at Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man, on 9 April 2021.

The report found that during the cargo flight to the Isle of Man (with no passengers aboard) the crew reported that when coming in to land, there was no audio tone to confirm the disengagement of the autopilot. During the AAIB investigation, “both pilots reported unusual resistance in the flying controls, which suggested that the autopilot had not disengaged.”

The commander of the flight took over control of the aircraft, and disengaged the autopilot using the sync button.

A Manx pilot said, “On reading the report, sounds as though the crew did the correct action of using the sync button. In my day on the ATP way back in the late 1990s, I seem to remember we could override the autopilot just by using stronger than normal inputs through the control column.”

The report found:

During a flight to Ronaldsway Airport on the Isle of Man, as the aircraft approached the minimum descent altitude, the autopilot would not disengage. There was no audio tone to indicate the disengagement and the co-pilot (pilot flying) felt there was resistance in the flying controls. Despite this, the cockpit indications showed that the autopilot had disengaged. Subsequently the synchronisation (SYN) button was pressed, which released the controls and the flight landed safely. Both pilots were unharmed.

A definite cause for the autopilot not disengaging could not be found but the manufacturer responsible for the design of the autopilot identified a possible scenario where the autopilot servomotors could remain engaged after the autopilot disengaged. This would result in higher-than-normal forces at the cockpit controls. Audio anomalies during the flight were probably caused by corrosion in the audio warning unit because of moisture ingress through the DV windows.

As a result of this investigation safety action was taken by the CAA to consider additional testing of the autopilot system as part of the continued airworthiness programme for the ATP. The operator took safety action to reconfigure their fleet so that either pilot could override either autopilot via the SYN button on their respective control wheel. The operator also initiated remedial action to try and prevent water ingress into the cockpit.

In addition, two Safety Recommendations have been made to the CAA regarding the use of magnetic tape recorders.

AAIB Report: BAe ATP (SE-LPS), Autopilot failed to disengage prior to landing, Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man.

AAIB Report

Michael Josem is a long-term consumer advocate, most prominently as a global leader in combating fraud in the online gambling industry. He was in part the inspiration for the 20th Century Fox Movie, Runner Runner, starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.

Josem has over a decade of experience as a senior business leader working across various high-tech and online industries, and takes action to build a better community. His primary volunteer roles include service for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and Graih, the homelessness charity.