When the Screen Goes Blank

There’s a lot to like about glass cockpits.  The multi function displays (MFD) and primary flight displays (PFD) are great for organizing information, showing trends and enhancing situational awareness. They work great. That is, until they don’t. That’s when the pilot really earns his/her pay. A United flight in New Orleans learned this the hard way.


A United Airlines Airbus A320 made an emergency landing in New Orleans (KMSY) just minutes after departing the airport Wednesday. United 497 was bound for San Francisco (KSFO) with 109 passengers and crew when the pilots noticed smoke in the flight deck as the aircraft climbed through 4,000 feet. An electrical failure soon followed and all avionics displays went blank. The electrical failure went far beyond instrumentation, possibly affecting nosewheel steering and aircraft braking which prompted the crew to request a longer runway. The emergency could not have come at a worse time as MSY’s longest runway was closed for maintenance.

Let’s see: There’s a potential fire on board, which is the worst sort of emergency. Then lost avionics in the clouds, another emergency. Partial panel flying and if you get down OK, the brakes probably won’t work.

Not just another day at the office, which is what everyone expected on takeoff. Therein lies the lesson: You never know when you’ll need to execute an emergency procedure or three. If you train well, you should be able to survive the unexpected. Complacency will doom even the best stick and rudder flyer if he/she fails to make the appropriate decision at the right time.

This is one of the few times you wonder about glass panels vs. steam gauges but I’d still vote digital for lots of reasons and so would many others.  Since 2006, Cessna stopped making round gauge airplanes. The only option is a glass panel aircraft. Cessna feels the marketplace has spoken loud and clear and bet the farm on it.

Despite a dark cockpit, they brought in the bird without injuries and “only” a blown tire. Passengers gave the crew a round of applause after the plane touched down.

Listen to the audio of United 497’s emergency landing here.

Way to go.


2 responses to “When the Screen Goes Blank

  1. For the life of me I can’t understand why the airlines don’t have a hand held GPS on every flight. It would sure come in handy in cases like this. If I ever come up with the money to put some nice glass in my Queen Air there will still be a place for my Garmin 696 on the flight deck.

    • I guess they think it can never happen. That’s why I always carry a portable GPS as well as a back up radio with nav functionality. Loss of radios in IMC would be very “scary”.

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