Vietnam Airlines A321neo First Officer Extended Flaps Instead Of Retracting Gear

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On November 24th, a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321neo extended its flaps instead of retracting its gear while departing from Hanoi to Hue. Causing an overspeed warning, autopilot had to be disconnected and action taken to attain the necessary pitch angle and airspeed.

A321neo Vietnam airlines
The aircraft involved was a 1.8-year-old Airbus A321neo. Photo: Airbus

Incident details

According to The Aviation Herald, on November 24th, a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321neo departed Hanoi at 07:45 for Hue. Just after take-off, the captain (the pilot flying) instructed the landing gear to be retracted. However, the aircraft’s first officer (the pilot monitoring), after reading back an ATC clearance, selected flaps from position 1 to position 3 instead of selecting the gear up.

With the flaps extended to position 3 while flying at 210 KIAS, the maximum speed was reduced to 195 KIAS. The result of this was an overspeed warning lasting 10 seconds.

The captain then disconnected the autopilot and flight director and increased the pitch. At 3500 feet, speed 170 KIAS (knots-Indicated Air Speed), the captain retracted the flaps from position 3 to position 0.

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Vietnam Airlines flight 1543
A look at the incident flight’s path (top) compared to a routine (uneventful) departure to the same destination (bottom).Photo: FlightRadar24.com

This increased the minimum steady flight speed to 200 KIAS. However, Alpha Floor Protection did not trigger as the criteria had not been reached. The captain returned the flap lever to position 1, lowered the pitch angle to pick up speed, and rolled the aircraft to the right to comply with the original ATC clearance to flight path TINLY.

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The crew requested to level off at 2,500 feet due to a technical problem. At this altitude, the aircraft stabilized at 220 KIAS. With flaps now retracted, the flight continued to its destination without further incident.

Vietnam Airlines flight 1543
A speed and altitude graph of the incident. Photo: FlightRadar24.com

For those who aren’t pilots

Airbus aircraft, in general, have five flap configurations. They are 0, 1, 2, 3, and FULL. Changing these positions engages both the slats (front of the wing) and flaps (behind the wing).

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Changing the position of the aircraft’s flaps and slats will result in a change in the aircraft’s  “safe airspeed”. Lowering the stall speed, to allow the aircraft to fly much slower than normally without falling out of the sky. However, the aircraft wouldn’t be able to fly as fast, leading to a risk of overspeed warnings.

Flap position 1 (or 1+F to be specific) or 2 is most often engaged during takeoff while flaps 3 or flaps FULL is selected for landing. Flaps 3 may be used for take-off in the case of a short runway or obstacle clearance.

central pedestal a320
The central pedestal of an Airbus A320. The flap lever is located on the bottom right of the frame, while the landing gear lever is in the top right corner of this image (marked by the up and down arrows). Photo: Oliver Cleynen via Wikimedia Commons 

Those commenting on the incident on The Aviation Herald’s report were quick to judge the pilot. One individual offered some insight into how this incident could have occurred, saying:

“It’s human factors mostly. Like any incident, it’s a combination of causes. Many pilots are flying a lot less than they’d like to these days. Mistakes are more likely because of a lack of practice. Here it seems the [Pilot flying] commanded the gear up. Around the same time the [Pilot monitoring] received an ATC instruction.”

The individual goes on to say that this would have added an element of distraction leading to the error being made. Not only did the first officer, the pilot monitoring, reach for the wrong lever, but they moved it in the wrong direction (for the phase of flight).

Especially for the pilots out there, what do you think of this situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Simple Flying reached out to Vietnam Airlines requesting a statement. However, at the time of publication, no response was received. We’ll update this article if any new information comes in.

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