Investigators for the Airbus A400M crash have narrowed down the cause of the software configuration error that led to the crash. According to sources speaking to Reuters, the most likely scenario is that critical software data was wiped from three of the engines during a software upgrade.
During a software upgrade for the engines, data pertaining to the engines, called “torque calibration parameters” were inadvertently wiped. Airbus had known about the potential issue that a software installation could wipe critical data. However, the risk was deemed low and Airbus simply implemented more checks. Unfortunately, in this case, the extra checks failed to discover the problem until it was too late.
Once in flight, a safety check by software would also determine if the engines had any problem. However, this check was only meant to stop faulty engines from causing damage, and to shut down the engines if needed. In this case, the engineers had never envisioned that 3 engines would have to be shut down and the critical loss of power eventually caused the crash.
The cause of the wipe has been identified as the Airbus software used to conduct the installation. Airbus has since warned its customers to cease using the faulty software. With even Boeing finding critical software bugs, one wonders how much care is being taken to software stability and if we can ever trust a windowless cockpit.
As software continues to grow more complex, the chance for critical errors to emerge increases. Airbus has found out the hard way after a Spanish A400M suffered a fatal crash just last month. Investigators have determined that a software configuration error for the engines led to nearly full engine failure, leading up to the crash.
Airbus was able to determine from the flight data recorder that the plane had not suffered any physical malfunction. Rather, software controlling the fuel supply erroneously adjusted the fuel tank trim due to faulty software configuration. Starved of fuel, the engines shut down, causing the plane to eventually crash. The software fault was not inherent to the code in the engine control unit but was due to it’s erroneous configuration settings.
While fly by wire has become very common in the plane industry, the continued reliance on software raises some concern. Checking for issues in software can be more complex than discovering and diagnosing physical problems with planes. Boeing, Airbus’s main competition, recently discovered a serious software bug that could have led to crashes due to bad software, also relating to power and engines. It’s important for firms to take as much care to make secure and reliable software as it is for ensuring the physical integrity of the plane. These issues are sure to crop up more and before I get on a 100% software reliant plane with a windowless cockpit, that software better be free of errors and configured properly.