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TransAsia pilots retested after crash

February 7, 2015

Pilots for TransAsia Airways who fly the type of plane involved in a fatal crash in Taipei this week have begun proficiency tests. Investigators are looking into pilot error as a possible factor in the crash.

Relatives of the victims pray during a Buddhist ritual near the wreckage of TransAsia Airways plane Flight GE235 after it crash landed into a river, in New Taipei City, February 5, 2015. REUTERS/River Wang
Image: Reuters/R. Wang

TransAsia Airways said on Saturday that it had cancelled 90 flights over the next three days to allow pilots who fly ATR planes to be tested at the order of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).

"Starting today, all of TransAsia's 71 ATR pilots will undergo tests to be carried out by the CAA and third-party professional units for an estimated period of four days," the airline said in a statement.

Pilots who fail the tests will not be allowed to fly again for an indefinite period until they have undergone retraining, the CAA said.

Aviation authorities said on Friday that the carrier had failed to meet around a third of the regulatory requirements imposed after another fatal crash in Taiwan's outlying Penghu islands in July.

'Possible error'

The CAA ordered the proficiency testing after it emerged that the pilots of the ATR 72-600 propeller jet that crashed into a river shortly after take-off on Wednesday may have shut off one of the plane's engines for reasons that remain unknown.

Initial reports from the plane's black boxes showed that the left engine was turned off manually by the crew after the right engine "flamed out" some two minutes after take-off, setting off warning signals in the cockpit.

Attempts to restart the engines then appear to have failed, leading to the crash.

Aviation experts say shutting off the running engine could have been a mistake, but the head of Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council, Thomas Wang, said on Saturday that it was too early to come to any conclusion about pilot error.

Previous engine failures

The death toll from Wednesday's crash has meanwhile risen to 39, with four people still missing.

The plane, carrying 53 passengers and five crew, clipped a highway overpass and then crashed into the Keelung River in Taipei some three-and-a-half minutes after taking off from Songshan Airport.

The CAA revealed on Friday that TransAsia Airways' ATR 72 fleet had previously experienced five cases of engine failure in the past five years.

Pratt & Whittney Canada, the engine maker, and the Aviation Safety Council have started examining both of the plane's engines, a process that could take four months, Wang said.

tj/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)