Is it even possible to forget to lower the gear on the A320-series?
It just seems so unlikely.
I'm not a commercial pilot, but I would expect a cascade of "TOO LOW - GEAR" & "TOO LOW - TERRAIN" warnings when they approached the runway?
No workload would IMHO make a pilot ignore warnings like that, since I expect you don't get them many times in your flying career?
I guess Airbus pilots can comment on this?
While I would agree that ignoring everything that should have been blaring at them, plus actually forgetting in the first place, plus calling "landing no blue" (which includes the gear) during the landing checklist when it wasn't actually the case, seems rather improbable. But you'd be surprised how the brain can filter out important information when you are under pressure. It is quite extraordinary.
Unstable approaches, as this one seems to have been, are particularly insidious in this regard. There is a very strong urge to continue when you should go around. This urge, coupled with the stress of the situation, dramatically lowers situational awareness and strengthens confirmation bias.
Example of the brain playing weird tricks: Remembering a clearance to land. You'd think pilots would not forget receiving such an important thing, but sometimes we do. Flying as PF, I'll have heard the clearance to land, and verbally confirmed it. Then one minute later at 800 feet or something, I'll start doubting myself and ask the PM. And even though he is absolutely certain we got it, he'll confirm with tower. This is why many Airbus pilots start the chrono when they get landing clearance. Just as a little reminder,
No one involved finds this weird because we all know that the brain plays tricks on us. Many actions are so ingrained that we can forget having done them. Which is why we have crosschecks, systems that check us, procedures...
Nitpick: You would not get "TOO LOW! TERRAIN!" in this case.
If it is possible in the A320 (I have no experience on Airbus) is it conceivable that the Captain silenced the aural warnings knowing that the high and fast approach would likely set off a number of messages? If so, not responding to both gear warnings as well as EGPWS alarms would be possible.
The latest evidence of the long (left cowl 4500 to 6000 / 7000 ft, right cowl from 5500 to 6000 / 7000 ft) skid damage indicates to me that 1) There was a prolonged flare and, 2) They had enough airspeed to "float" level for at least 2000 ft. That they got airborne again further suggests the high speed and controlled descent / flare.
Finally, the ECU alternator is at the 6 o'clock position on the engine, the portion that would impact first - makes me wonder if the "default" loss-of-ECU alternator power configuration sets the engine range for operation at high thrust settings but due to lack of [electrical] power any significant reduction in power lever position would result in the inability of the engine to configure stator blades and bleeds to allow for less than high power settings, resulting in a flame out?
You can switch off the GPWS system entirely, which would mean no "TOO LOW! GEAR!", no "SINK RATE; SINK RATE!" and no "TERRAIN!" You might do for an unstable approach to prevent nuisance warnings.
You cannot, however, pre-emptively silence the master warning (continuous "ding, ding, ding..." chime). So when descending below 750 feet without the gear down, you'd still get that. And it is heard on the ATC recording.
Just my two cents, not by any means fact but here is my analysis:
From what I've seen reported so far, it seems they never really had a landing gear problems. What does appear to be interesting is that they seemed to be too high (and consequently too fast) for landing, but were very keen to commit to a landing. At the start of the ATC clip the pilots are saying:
Pilot: "We are comfortable, we can make it"
Pilot: "Sir, we are comfortable now and we are out of 3500ft for 3000ft established ILS 25L"
ATC: "Turn left 180" (i.e. preparing tthem to do a 360 to lose altitude).
The pilots then again repeat they are estbalished on the ILS and ATC responds with "You are 5 miles from touchdown desend to 3500ft". To be on the glidescope at Karachi, they need to be at 3000ft from 10 miles away (from what I heard) - so were they still to high and not estbalished on the ILS?
It seems in the chaos of them trying to rapidly decend they forgot to deploy their landing gear on the first attempt (although I would have thought an A320 would alert the pilots to this - an alarm can be heard in one of the ATC communcations but I don't know enough about A320's to know whether this was that warning or not), which resulted in the aircraft engine pods contacting with the ground, based on runway inspection reports, passenger on board, eye witnesses and ATC even asking if they are going to do a belly landing the second time around. The pilots did a go around but sadly the damage to the engines meant they lost power before making it for a second landing attempt.
What is also interesting is that the engines contacted the ground around 4500 ft from the runway threshold, which is almost half the runway length. If this is true, then it backs up the theory that they were too high and too fast and trying to put the plane down much further down the runway. Which also makes sense, given that once the engines contacted the ground, they probably didn't have a great deal left of runway and probably made that split second decision to go around based on that.
I've read a few different sources (avherald, the dried fruit place, etc) and most sources say the alarm is for flap overspeed rather than gear issues. That's consistent with them trying to salvage a bad approach. It's not just a bad approach, it's one where they have something like twice the amount of energy they should have when trying to capture the ILS.
Without concrete evidence, I'm not buying a crew error on not lowering the gear. Pretty much everyone of us who have operated a retractable gear aircraft makes it a big part of our mental loop that runs during the landing pattern. I'm having a hard time thinking two experienced pilots in a modern FBW cockpit are going to make such a basic error. I know I'd be looking for three greens several times during the final approach, and the alarm would make me look at the panel at least once if it was indeed a gear warning. I'd be very surprised if they didn't have the gear down early in the approach trying to lose altitude and if the gear didn't come down they would notice soon enough and then do a go-around to figure out the gear problem early in the approach. On the flip side, if the warning was for overspeed, they'd simply note it and carry on, since they know they're over speed.
I'm much more inclined to believe we have a crew trying to salvage a too high and too close approach then realizing they're half way down the runway and need to do a go-around then raising the gear before positive climb is established then scraping the nacelles for a few hundred feet then finally climbing away. That has happened a few different times now, and most of the evidence we have is a crew trying to salvage an unstable approach.
That's interesting, I wonder if the A320 won't lower the landing gear if the aircraft speed is too fast (i.e. a safety mechanism or phsycially not possible?). If that was the case, perhaps they did select to lower the landing gear but it didn't deploy due to excessive speed?
I could understand how they would miss the gear down alarm if they are too high and too fast, if the flaps overspeed sound is going off then they would have probably trained their minds in that brief moment to ignore alarms and carry on focusing on landing, which may have helped them forget to double check the landing gear is actually down and ignore other warnings too? I've seen of situations of aircrafts accidently landing with gear up, but not on modern commercial jets.
I don't know the A320 gear system but it should be like the A330 or any other modern airliner. There is a system to prevent gear extension at high speed. However, that would not be active until well above max gear extension speed, which is well above approach speed.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo