Interview with Capt. Ruedi
Swissair MD-11 Technical Pilot
Interviewed July 17, 2001 at Swissair Headquarters,
Zurich International Airport
Capt. Bornhauser, along with
representatives of Boeing Engineering and in-house Swissair engineering, you are
one of the ‘spiritual fathers’ of the Modification Plus program being applied to
the entire Swissair MD-11 fleet. What are the major items of this project?
Bornhauser: First, we are going to
install smoke detectors in areas where we think the aircraft is vulnerable.
Since we still do not know the root cause of the Flight 111 accident, we looked
at the aircraft from a wider perspective. So we looked at critical areas – and
these are areas where of course we have a lot of wiring, where we have computers
and other avionics – which could be prone to start or propagate a fire. We found
that this is at least the cockpit overhead area, the forward galley and first
class overhead area, and the avionics compartment underneath the cockpit.
In regards to the avionics
compartment, there already are aircraft which have smoke detection systems
incorporated, but nothing like this exists in the cockpit or galley overhead
area. We also know from experience that you may get false warnings by smoke
sensors, and the operational impact of a smoke warning is tremendous. So, from
this approach, we wanted to have a camera system to verify that there is really
smoke…. We have built several cameras in all three compartments, and here in the
cockpit we can select each of the eight cameras
individually, and we can see if there is smoke or not. This is really a huge
step forward, I believe, and the MD-11 will be the first transport-category
passenger aircraft to have such a sophisticated system.
Besides these changes, we now have
as well for the first time a real fire-fighting capability, which does not exist
on any other aircraft. We have Halon bottles in fixed installations in the
cockpit and in the sidewalls of the first class galley. If we realize that the
smoke is real, caused by a fire, we have a chance to fight it with the 5-lb.
Halon bottles (that) we can discharge into the cockpit overhead area. We have
two 10-lb. bottles for discharge into the galley overhead area. There is as well
a ‘fixed tube’ system where we can distribute the Halon to the most important
area in that compartment. This is a major improvement.
Q: In your study in the
aftermath of the Flight 111 accident, you found the problems that occurred in
the accident scenario were not unique to the MD-11.
Bornhauser: Absolutely true! It would
be completely wrong to say, ‘This is only an MD-11 problem…if that is solved we
are all happy again.’ That attitude would not be wise and it would not be fair
for our crews and passengers. It is absolutely an airplane problem, whether it’s
an Airbus, a Boeing or a former Douglas model. In every airplane you have wires,
you have computers, and that is why we are going to study the problem in the
other fleets after these modifications. And with the same critical point of view
we are going to study our Airbus fleet. We will ask ourselves, ‘Do we have
similar areas and points of possible vulnerability in this aircraft? Do we have
to change something?’
We believe we have to do better
than what is done right now, and we already had a success with Airbus. They
changed their smoke/fire checklist due to our input…. So it is very important to
realize that it is a general aircraft problem, not a unique MD-11 problem.
Q: Skeptics claim that
Swissair is spending money for measures that are not necessary, not mandatory or
Bornhauser: Actually, this is a stupid
statement, because you’re increasing the safety of the aircraft. Of course, you
have to think about it before you spend a lot of money. But, I’d say it is an
investment in safety…. See, airlines are spending money for crazy things in the
cabin, like for laptops, e-mail and Internet access – all kinds of things really
not needed in an airplane from a pilot’s point of view. This is just marketing
driven – you spend more money and it has nothing to do with safety…. You should
invest the money rather in increased safety of the transport and not in the
entertainment of the passengers.
Q: Does this modification
program come out of lessons learned from the Flight 111 accident?
Bornhauser: That is for sure…. In light
of the accident, we realized that decision-making is the most important thing
for the crew. And we have to give them the means to make a good decision. The
Modification Plus program goes in this direction, and it will not stop there. We
will assess it for each of our other aircraft, and the philosophy behind the
modifications has already been incorporated into our manuals and procedures.
This is completely independent of the aircraft type. Decision-making in a
critical situation like smoke or fire has been reviewed for all fleets…
Q: There seems to be some
reluctance to follow Swissair’s example industry-wide.
Bornhauser: One of the major problems
today is that all the companies, especially pilots having a job like mine, are
all very busy and they do not have time to talk to each other…I believe this
situation has to be improved. For example, for the MD-11 we have a seminar every
two years…and we come together for two days and exchange our experiences. But
there is nothing really established between different airlines…and I think that
could be improved a lot.
Q: Should similar concepts
like your Modification Plus apply to future new aircraft designs?
Bornhauser: Absolutely. I’m convinced
that it will work. We have analyzed such ideas as well for cargo compartments
and now they have to be brought up to this standard. In the avionics
compartment, it is a bit more difficult because of the (cooling) airflow. The
problem is to seal the compartment, but I believe we have to face this task. By
the way, this is one of the issues the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of
Canada is pressing upon.
Q: The first steps to modify
the MD-11 cockpit and to increase the redundancy of essential system wiring date
back to January 2000. Why did it take so long?
Bornhauser: It is not that simple. From
our initial assessments, we knew what we would like to improve. We agreed that
we would like to accomplish this together with the aircraft manufacturer,
Boeing. Further, we wished to get these modifications certified by the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). We wanted to follow the ‘official path’ –
a joint venture between the manufacturer, the regulatory agency and us. It took
time, and the beginning was a bit ‘resinous.’ Today, it has developed into
outstanding cooperation…. Probably there was some politics involved, but that
doesn’t interest me as a pilot. We wanted to step ahead and now we are happy
with the achievement.
Q: What are the major
advantages of the Modification Plus for you and your pilot colleagues?
Bornhauser: The major advantage is the
option of early recognition of a critical situation. Time is the most important
factor, as all accidents associated with smoke and fire clearly show. To gain 5,
10 or 15 minutes can be life saving. So, Modification Plus gives us a higher
level of safety. Psychologically, you are aware of having a sophisticated
surveillance system in place that will warn earlier than in any other aircraft
if something goes wrong. This is definitely a good feeling for pilots, besides
the new standby instrument, which will work on its own battery power if the main
or the emergency power supplies are affected (lost) or damaged. We go much
further than required for certification, but it is our obligation, as we want to
learn from the Flight 111 accident and to take corrective measures. I believe it
would be a fatal mistake if we would not do it. n
Interview with Mr. Willi
Q: As head of Swissair’s
Post-Emergency Organization, could you describe your work in the last three
Schurter: The Post-Emergency
Committee was established right after the accident and is the successor to the
Emergency Commission, which actually was a crisis management organization. The
Post-Emergency Committee was established by Swissair to insure that…the
attention required by an accident is given full priority.
Head, Swissair Post-Emergency Organization, Flight 111
Interviewed July 17, 2001, at Swissair Headquarters,
Zurich International Airport
Q: What are the major findings
of your team?
Schurter: They are not much different
from what the Transportation Safety Board (TSB)
of Canada has found so far…. But, obviously, we have tried to establish much
faster than the TSB some conclusions that we could draw and to initiate actions.
It was quite clear early in the investigation that it will go on for a long
time, because it is a very complex accident. We considered the time to be too
long to wait for the report and only then to initiate corrective actions. That
would take something like five years in the end, between the report, which…will
come out sometime next year and if you then start to initiate actions it will be
the year 2005!
We had to assume…that a major fire
was the initial cause for the catastrophic failure of the airplane…. So we were
looking at things that in the short time period the crew has in case of a fire
on board to assure the safe landing of the airplane.
We equipped the aircraft with fire detecting sensors and fire
extinguishing systems, in addition to those already on the airplane. We are
installing an improved version of the standby instruments and, thirdly, we are
making sure that we have proper segregation of critical wires. Of course, at the
same time we also are doing all the Airworthiness Directives from the FAA, which
were caused or accelerated by the TSB findings.
Q: Looking at the re-routing
of essential power bus feeders, does this mean the aircraft did not have
adequate redundancy before?
Schurter: Obviously, you may improve
any design. It is our obligation to learn from what happened. Nobody, me
included, claims that the aircraft was not up to specification or the
Q: So the new wire separation
is a result of your analysis of the contributing factors that may have played a
role in the SR 111 accident?
Schurter: We still don’t know exactly
if this was the case, but we wanted to make sure it will not play a role in a
future accident or incident.
Q: Critics say it is just the
‘pleasure of Swissair’ to make these modifications.
Schurter: I don’t think it is the
‘pleasure of Swissair.’ It is merely a need that we have identified. We believe
our modifications are worthwhile. We believe we have a responsibility and a
moral obligation to do this for the Flight 111 victims and their families, and
certainly for our customers and crews. n