AAE Colloquium: Dr. Wilson N. Felder

Event Date: September 12, 2013
Hosted By: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Location: ARMS 1109

Air France 447: A Case Study in Complex System Design

Wilson N. Felder, PhD
Distinguished Service Professor
School of Systems and Enterprises
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Stevens Institute of Technology
Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ


On 1 June 2009 Air France flight 447, an Airbus 330, vanished over the mid Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil, outside of radar coverage. The wreckage of the aircraft was eventually recovered, and analysis of the flight recorders established that the aircraft was flown into the ocean from 30,000 ft in an aerodynamic stall condition. While it might be tempting to attribute the cause of the crash to inadequate crew training and poor Crew Resource Management techniques, the reality is quite different, and much more interesting. The Flight Control System on the Airbus 330 is elegantly designed, with double redundancy, and diversity of both hardware and software. In the unfolding of the Air France 447 accident, it performed precisely as planned. The interaction between the FCS and the flight crew, however, proved disastrous. The story of this accident raises important questions about the role of dynamic connectivity among system components that leads to the emergent behavior characteristic of complex systems. It also suggests some fruitful approaches to complex system design that have a higher potential for mitigating the probability of future incidents similar to this one. An important conclusion from examination of this accident, of course, is that this precise instance of emergent behavior will never happen again: it will be mitigated by crew training in a classic barn-doorclosing maneuver. The more serious finding is that other, unexpected and unpredictable results will almost certainly emerge: those are the ones we must design to prevent!


Dr. Wilson N. Felder is Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Systems and Enterprises at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. In 2012 he retired as the 15th Director of the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center, in Pomona, NJ, the Nation’s principal Federal Laboratory for engineering, research, development, test, and evaluation of air transportation systems. In that position, Dr. Felder served as the FAA’s Director of Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, and also co-chaired the Aeronautics Science and Technology subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, OSTP. Previously, Dr. Felder led the FAA’s advanced technology Office. Prior to joining the FAA, he led TRW inc’s engineering services business with the FAA and the aviation community. Long active in the aviation community, Dr. Felder is an instrument rated private pilot, and a member of the team that received the Collier Trophy for the development of the Automated Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast system. Dr. Felder is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and served on the board of AIAA for ten years, first as Director of the Aircraft Group, and later as Vice President, Standards. Dr. Felder holds Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Virginia.

Please see the Colloquium Announcement for more details.

An informal coffee & cookie reception will be held prior to the lecture at 2:30 p.m. in

the Hostetler Student Lounge (directly in front of ARMS 3rd floor  elevators).