Philosophy Paper on Concorde Aircraft Accident
Concorde was a British – France co-designed aircraft manufactured during the Cold War. It was constructed in 1967 as part of a series of 20 aircrafts built in the design of fighter planes (Scotchmer 55). Out of the 20, two of them were trial planes built for testing, while some of the remaining was divided to the British and France Airlines to operate. The airplanes went at a record of twice the speed of sound i.e. Ma 2.04 and were considered the fastest airplanes of all times. This was enabled by their design, which made it possible to achieve great velocities. For instance, the planes could cross the Mediterranean in 40 percent of the time taken by other aircrafts. Out of the remaining 18 planes, the British and France Airlines operated 7 each, while the others remained with the manufacturers. Only two were however operated as commercial aircrafts. Initially, the commercial planes were unprofitable as they were considered too expensive. However, following years of successful operations, passengers began to prefer these planes to the conventional flights, which took longer to cover similar distances.
Despite the positive features associated with the airplane design, there were a few key negative aspects of the design. For instance, the planes were characterized with high fuel consumption levels; production of high energy sonic waves, which influenced humans and buildings on the ground; high takeoff and landing velocities; poor controllability in low air velocities and long runway requirements. These negative aspects contributed greatly to the first and only Concorde airplane disaster in 2000. Following the accident, the planes were taken off the air for commercial operations as more people began to fear them and associate them with danger.
The Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde was on a scheduled flight from France to New York City. The accident led to the loss of life of 100 passengers, nine crew members and four people on the ground. The main cause of the accident could not be connected to the design failures of the aircraft, but to a key factor which was the presence of debris on the runway. A plane leaving 5 minutes before Air France 4590 had left wing debris on the run way. The Concorde plane ran over the debris, which shattered a tyre and sent 4.5 kilograms of tyre debris to the aircraft wing’s underside. Although this did not result in the shattering of the fuel tanks, it created a shock wave, which resulted in the rupturing of the fifth fuel tank at the weakest point. Fuel leaked from the bottom of the wing and most likely underwent ignition by an electric gear. Investigations carried out post-accident indicated that the plane was exceeding the maximum take-off weight for ambient conditions with over 810 kilograms. During takeoff, the plane was so loaded such that the Centre of gravity was aft the takeoff limit. During taxiing, fuel transfer from engine 5 reduced the tank level to 94 percent.
Both engines surged and lost all power. In the process, a large flame developed, forcing the flight engineer to shut down the second engine. Although the fire was noticed before takeoff, the weight of the aircraft coupled with the high take off velocity made it impossible to land at that moment, since the plane would require 3 meters of run way yet there was only 1.2 meters available. The plane was forced to take off but could neither gain height nor accelerate due to the damage that prevented the landing gear bay door from retraction. The crew tried a diversion towards the Le Bourget Airport which was the nearest, yet it is reported that considering the condition of the aircraft at that time, a safe landing was unlikely.
Ethical evaluation – Pre-accident
According to the postulations of virtue ethics, one must live a life of complete moral virtue in order to be considered to be living a good life. Virtues are universally recognized and are the basic necessities for upholding relationships between people. Various virtues can be associated with the Concorde disaster both positively and negatively. In the exploration of the disaster, presence and absence of virtues can be related to the cause and progress of the accident as well as to the post disaster actions of the accident. The virtue of creativity can be said to be in existence among the designers of the plane. Considering the fact that the Concorde planes had been operational for more than 20 years without an accident, it can be argued that the designers operated creatively in the production of something unique as well as effective in its operations. The causes of the accident cannot be linked in any way to the manufacturing designs of the place, hence it cannot be said that there were construction flaws in the aircraft. The ability to balance between the challenges imposed by the designs and the benefits associated with the designs indicates creativity of a high order. On the other hand, the inventors failed to recognize the need to work in the balance of a desirable load level and to maintain a sustainable operational load limit.
A second virtue that can be linked to the disaster is that of caring. With more challenges in the design as compared to its benefits, it can be concluded that the plane designers did not practice due care by considering the safety of the passengers and crew. It was essential for the inventors to consider the possible constraints to flight that may arise as a result of the design challenges. The practice of caring by the airplane authors could have reduced the severity of the risk of disaster by the plane. Apart from the plane designers, the airport operations also failed to practice caring through their failure to check and maintain the runway, following the departure of the airplane immediately before Air France 4590. Since the airport operations management should always be on the lookout, especially for planes taking off and landing, it was their failure to deal with the debris that resulted in the accident. This would have prevented the eventual turn of events in the aircraft.
Through their actions, it can also be argued that the airport operations failed to practice diligence as a moral virtue. Diligence refers to the act of meticulousness in performing duties. In the aviation industry, failure to pay attention to very minute details can result in disasters that cannot be reverted. For instance, through their failure to notice the excess weight of the airplane, the operations management placed the lives of those boarding the plane at risk. In addition to this, failing to remove debris from the runway is also an indication of lack of diligence in operations. It would have been better and safer to reduce the weight of the plane through reduction of luggage or controlling the maximum number of passengers on the plane through consideration of the maximum flight weight for the plane. The structural design of the airplane should also have been considered prior to allowing the plane to take off. The plane designers worked diligently through indication of the maximum load as well as through meticulous structural design. It was upon the airport operations management staff to protect lives through implementing the provided conditions. Moreover, the airport management should have delayed the flight by a few minutes to remove the debris instead of letting Air France move into the debris. This required courage to pull through. By failing to take this action in order to protect the lives of the passengers and the crew, the airline and airport management failed to act courageously.
The application of courage was also instrumental during the disaster. This is an evidence through the actions of the crew who took off, despite awareness that there was a possibility of crashing. Being aware that there was no other option for the plane, it was indeed a show of great courage. They also demonstrated courage through trying to divert to the nearest airport in spite of indications that there would be limited chances for safe landing.
Ethical Evaluation – Post Accident
After the incident, it was essential for the airline to practice care as well as act courageously. Informing people about the demise of their loved ones take a lot of audacity and the fact that the airline managed to do this effectively is a clear indication of brave action. The post-accident investigations team also acted courageously through publication of the findings, regardless of the potential impacts on the associated airline and the passenger families.
Scotchmer, Suzanne. Innovation and Incentives, MIT Press, 2004.