The Dangers of Tail Strikes: How a Software Glitch Endangered Passengers?

How a Software Glitch Endangered Passengers?





Over the years, there have been many instances of critical software failures, resulting in severe consequences for individuals and organizations. In 2018, a software glitch in the Nasdaq stock market led to a temporary shutdown, causing trading disruptions and financial losses for investors. Additionally, in 2020, a software issue in a British grading algorithm resulted in thousands of students receiving lower grades than they deserved. These incidents highlight the importance of software testing in identifying and preventing potential failures.


Despite the continued evolution of software development practices, comprehensive testing remains crucial in ensuring the reliability, safety, and functionality of software systems.


The Alaska Airlines Incident: 

Very recently, two Alaska Airlines flights departing from Seattle to Hawaii experienced a tail strike during takeoff, with both planes’ tails scraping the runway. This caused the pilots to circle back and land the planes back at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Although tail strikes are not uncommon in aviation, having two incidents occur in quick succession is not a normal occurrence. Before we get into the details and the root cause let us take a look at what a tail strike is.


What is a Tail Strike?

A “tail strike” is a term used in aviation to describe when the rear end of an aeroplane hits the runway while it is taking off or landing. This can happen if the plane’s angle of attack is too high or if the plane is turned too quickly when taking off or landing. The plane’s tail section, including the rudder, elevator, and rear pressure bulkhead, can be damaged by a tail strike. In the worst cases, it can also cause structural damage that makes the plane less safe.


However, tail strikes can occur due to a variety of reasons such as improper takeoff or landing technique, incorrect weight and balance calculations, wind conditions, or mechanical issues. Investigation by the airline and aviation authorities will be required to determine the specific cause of these incidents.


The Root Cause of the Failure

As reported by the Seattle Times, these tailstrikes were primarily caused by a software glitch in a program sold by a Swedish company named DynamicSource. The intended purpose of this program is to provide pilots with critical weight and balance information, which they enter into their flight computers to make decisions such as engine thrust and takeoff speed. However, in this instance, the software produced inaccurate data that significantly underestimated the aircrafts’ weights.


With the technological advancements, the software systems we rely on daily are becoming more complex and interconnected. It’s crucial that we focus on the identification and prevention of potential failures through thorough software testing. Without it, the consequences can be severe, ranging from safety hazards to financial and reputational losses. This is the primary reason why software testing remains as relevant today as it was decades ago, ensuring the reliability, safety, and functionality of critical systems.