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When cockpits go dark

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A United Airbus A320 passenger plane takes off at Newark Liberty International airport Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in Newark, N.J. Airline pilots who fly certain Airbus jets that first came into service more than two decades ago have reported over 50 episodes of multiple electrical failures in the cockpit. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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A United Airbus A320 passenger plane takes off at Newark Liberty International airport Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in Newark, N.J. Airline pilots who fly certain Airbus jets that first came into service more than two decades ago have reported over 50 episodes of multiple electrical failures in the cockpit. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The Associated Press has been reviewing records of close calls involving the Airbus A320 family and found an incident in 2008 that sounds like just about the most terrifying malfunction that could ever happen in a cockpit.

In January of 2008, as United Flight 731 was climbing out of Newark Airport headed for Denver with a full load of fuel, all the instruments in the cockpit went dark. Everything. The navigation screens, the primary and standby attitude indicators, and even the radios. Which meant that as they circled back for an emergency landing, there was no way to contact the tower. And in the control tower at Newark, as they watched this airplane making a hard right turn, and not answering the radio, they were thinking 9/11.

Fortunately, heads remained cool, the weather was clear, and flight 731 landed safely.

But the story says a review of the records found 50 episodes like this.

The FAA ordered fixes in 2010, but gave the airline four years to make them because the fix takes 46 hours per plane, and costs about $6,000.

Now you have to keep this in perspective: a total of 50 of these blackout incidents out of 9.5 million scheduled commercial flights each year.

Still, even at $6,000 a plane, even if there’s a little inconvenience in fixing them all right away, if it guarantees that all the screens and gauges in the cockpit won’t ever again just go blank I think most of us would take that deal.

At least the pilots should have the cell phone number of the tower, right? On on a hot key, preferably?

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