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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

SSJ100 Accident: Was there a local pilot on the flight deck?

Controversy and coverage of the Sukhoi SSJ100 crash continue, albeit now not continuously in the headlines. One point that people continue to ask me is: "Surely the Sukhoi crew the risks associated with the local geography, didn't any local pilot join the flight crew in the cockpit?"

Answer: YES, the first flight had a local pilot in the observer seat in the cockpit.

Photos of the 1st demo flight showed a Capt. Setyaki from Sky Aviation occupying the observer seat. However, little is known on what capacity did he occupy that seat. Was it to assist the flight crew? Provide area familiarity cues/pointers? Or purely to enjoy the flight.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains, he was there. Even if he was there purely as a "previledged passenger", his presence would surely be able to add a pair of eyes to watch out for "unique local risks."

Approaching AL, with Capt. Setyaki on the jumpseat taking photos himself

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), he wasn't on the second flight. I am sure that any information given by the jumpseat occupier with regards to the local area would be useful for the flight crew. 

However, whether that information or his presence on the second flight could/should have prevented this accident or not, is questionable. After all, even my friends who fly in and out of Jakarta's main airport everyday and fly over Halim as they head to the east said, they don't know exactly how far the distances are from Halim to Mt. Salak and Mt. Pangrango, as it's not on the airway they frequent. They'd also think in zones, much like what's depicted on the charts, such as MSAs (Minimum Sector Altitude) and MORAs (Minimum Off Route Altitude), which also provide some cushion of obstacle clearance. Capt. Setyaki at Sky Aviation, don't normally fly in and out of Jakarta anyways, Jakarta isn't on the route network for Sky Aviation, so his pointers would be "general" albeit complete.

Would a sightseeing pilot in the observer seat know where the airplane was? Sure! I'm not a pilot, and even I can read the navigation display and the horizontal situation indicator below the artificial horizon, and obtain a quick picture on where the aircraft was in this photo:

First Officer's Panel (Photo by Andy D / @infohots)

My opinion remains that, a local pilot present in the flight deck on the second flight may not have prevented the accident, unless you put someone who is familiar with the area (which are air force pilots (and mainly helicopter pilots from Atang Sanjaya), or instructors and student pilots based in Halim who frequently use the Bogor Training Area) in both Visual and Instrument Flight Rules. The latter two types of pilots, aren't the usual guys companies want to put in the flight deck on a sales demo flight of a new commercial airliner.

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