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Altimeter Setting Procedures

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Category: Level Bust Level Bust
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Content control: EUROCONTROL EUROCONTROL

Description

The aircraft altimeter barometric sub-scale must be set to the appropriate setting for the phase of flight. These are:

  • Flight level. Standard pressure setting (1013 hPa) is set when flying by reference to flight levels above the transition altitude;
  • Altitude. Regional or airfield pressure setting (QNH) is set when flying by reference to altitude above mean sea level below the transition level;
  • Height. Altimeter pressure setting indicating height above airfield or touchdown (QFE) is set when approaching to land at airfield where this procedure is in use.

Failure to set the appropriate barometric sub-scale pressure setting may result in a significant deviation from the cleared altitude or Flight Level

altimeter setting
Altimeter Setting

Types of Altimeter Setting Error

  • The pilot mishears the transmitted pressure setting and sets an incorrect figure.
  • The pilot hears the transmitted pressure setting correctly but fails to set it or mis-sets it.
  • The pilot fails to change the pressure setting at the appropriate point in a departure, climb, descent or approach.

Effects

Defences

Effective SOPs contained in company flight operations manuals which specify appropriate procedures for the setting and cross-checking of altimeter barometric sub scales.

Typical Scenarios

  • A pilot fails to ensure that standard pressure is set when passing the transition altitude in the climb, and levels the aircraft at a flight level which differs from the cleared level by an amount dependent on the difference between the QNH and 1013 hPa.
  • A pilot fails to set QNH when passing the transition level in the descent and levels the aircraft at an altitude which differs from the cleared altitude by an amount dependent on the difference between QNH and 1013 hPa.
  • A pilot un-used to landing with QFE set, does not remember that the altimeter now indicates height above airfield elevation or touch-down zone.

Solutions

  • The existence of appropriate SOPs for the setting and cross-checking of altimeter sub scales and their strict observance is the only universal primary solution to eliminate incorrect altimeter setting.
  • Use of the aircraft radio altimeter to monitor the aircraft proximity with the ground can help to improve situational awareness provided that the flight crew are generally familiar with the terrain over which they are flying;
  • GPWS/TAWS provide a safety net against CFIT and, in the case of TAWS Class 'A' with its option of a simple terrain mapping display, it can also be used to directly improve routine situational awareness.

Related Articles

Accidents and Incidents

Events in which the incorrect altimeter pressure setting was either a cause or contributing factor in a Level Bust or CFIT/near CFIT:

  • A310 / B736, en-route, Southern Norway, 2001 (LB LOS HF) (On 21 February 2001, a level bust 10 nm north of Oslo Airport by a climbing PIA A310 led to loss of separation with an SAS B736 in which response to a TCAS RA by the A310 not being in accordance with its likely activation (descend). The B736 received and correctly actioned a Climb RA.)
  • E145, en route, north east of Madrid Spain, 2011 (CFIT LB HF AGC) (On 4 August 2011, a Luxair Embraer 145 flying a STAR into Madrid incorrectly read back a descent clearance to altitude 10,000 feet as being to 5,000 feet and the error was not detected by the controller. The aircraft was transferred to the next sector where the controller failed to notice that the incorrect clearance had been repeated. Shortly afterwards, the aircraft received a Hard EGPWS ‘Pull Up’ Warning and responded to it with no injury to the 47 occupants during the manoeuvre. The Investigation noted that an MSAW system was installed in the ACC concerned but was not active.)
  • A319 / A321, en-route, west north west of Geneva, Switzerland 2011 (LOS LB HF) (On 6 August 2011 an Easyjet Airbus A319 on which First Officer Line Training was in progress exceeded its cleared level during the climb after a different level to that correctly read back was set on the FMS. As a result, it came into conflict with an Alitalia A321 and this was resolved by responses to coordinated TCAS RAs. STCA alerts did not enable ATC resolution of the conflict and it was concluded that a lack of ATC capability to receive Mode S EHS DAPs - since rectified - was a contributory factor to the outcome.)
  • GLF5 / A319, south-eastern France, 2004 (LB LOS HF) (On 16 September 2004, a loss of separation occurred over Geneva between Air France A319 and a Gulfstream 5 which commenced descent without clearance by ATC and with coordinated TCAS RAs not followed by either aircraft.)
  • B738, en-route, Arabian Sea, 2010 (LOC LB HF) (On 26 May 2010, a Boeing 737-800 being operated by Air India Express on a passenger flight from Dubai UAE to Pune, India was in the cruise at night at FL370 near PARAR when a sudden high speed descent occurred without ATC clearance during which nearly 7000 feet of altitude was lost in a little over 30 seconds before recovery was made. The remainder of the flight was uneventful. Despite the abnormal pitch, pitch change and ‘g’ variation, none of the 113 occupants had been injured.)
  • … further results

"Pressure altimeter setting error" is not in the list of possible values (Accepted ATC Clearance not followed, SID bust, Clearance readback error undetected, TCAS RA response, Manual flight) for this property.

  • DH8A, vicinity Palmerston North New Zealand, 1995 (CFIT HF AW) (On 9 June 1995 a de Havilland DHC-8-100 collided with terrain some 16 km east of Palmerston North aerodrome while carrying out a daytime instrument approach. The airplane departed Auckland as scheduled Ansett New Zealand flight 703 to Palmerston North airport.)
  • DHC6, vicinity Kokoda Papua New Guinea, 2009 (CFIT HF) (On 11 August 2009, a De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 being operated by Airlines PNG on a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Port Moresby to Kokoda impacted terrain in day IMC while transiting the Kokoda Gap, approximately 6nm south east of the intended destination. The aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and all 13 occupants were killed.)
  • C550, vicinity Cagliari Sardinia Italy, 2004 (CFIT HF) (On 24 February 2004, a Cessna 550 inbound to Cagliari at night requested and was approved for a visual approach without crew awareness of the surrounding terrain. It was subsequently destroyed by terrain impact and a resultant fire during descent and all occupants were killed. The Investigation concluded that the accident was the consequence of the way the crew conducted the flight in the absence of adequate visual references and with the possibility of a ‘black hole’ effect. It was also noted that the aircraft was not fitted, nor required to be fitted, with TAWS.)
  • FA20, vicinity Narsarsuaq Greenland, 2001 (CFIT HF) (On 5 August 2001, a Dassault Falcon 20, operated by Naske Air, on a non-scheduled international cargo flight, crashed on the final approach to runway 07 at Narsarsuaq, Greenland (BGBW), the aircraft impacting mountainous terrain 4.5 NM SW of the aerodrome.)
  • B738, En route, east of Asahikawa Japan, 2010 (CFIT HF) (On 26 October 2010, an All Nippon Boeing 737-800 was radar vectored towards mountainous terrain and simultaneously given descent clearance to an altitude which was 5000 feet below the applicable MVA whilst in IMC without full flight crew awareness. Two TAWS ‘PULL UP’ hard warnings occurred in quick succession as a result. The flight crew responses were as prescribed and the subsequent investigation found that the closest recorded proximity to terrain had been 655 feet. It was established that the controller had ‘forgotten’ about MVA.)
  • … further results

"Pressure altimeter setting error" is not in the list of possible values (Into water, Into terrain, Into obstruction, No Visual Reference, Lateral Navigation Error, Vertical navigation error, VFR flight plan, IFR flight plan) for this property.

Further Reading

ICAO

  • Doc 8168 (PANS-OPS), Volume I, Flight Procedures - Part VI - Altimeter Setting Procedures - Chapter 3.
  • ICAO Video: Altimetry - Basic Principles;

Flight Safety Foundation ALAR Toolkit

EUROCONTROL Level Bust Toolkit

Airbus Briefing Notes