A maintenance error led to engine parts being blown off a British Airways plane that was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow last week, investigators have confirmed.
Pictures showed that the cowls covering the aircraft engines were not properly shut, leading the 40kg metal coverings to fly loose during takeoff.
In a special bulletin on Friday, the Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) confirmed details of the damage the Airbus A319 sustained in the incident, in which the plane trailed smoke as it was forced to land on one engine over a heavily populated area of west London.
At least one of the cowls struck the plane, causing damage to the fuselage, wing, landing gear and a fuel pipe. Both of the engines were exposed, and the right-hand one caught fire and was shut down by pilots.
Investigators called on Airbus to again tell operators to ensure essential checks are made on the cowl closures, a known safety risk. Airbus had noted 32 similar incidents on its A320 family of planes, including the A319, in which the engine cowls detached in flight, causing damage to the plane. The manufacturer issued a safety briefing last year urging crews to be aware of the risks.
The AAIB said that cowls had not to date caused an engine fire, and the exact cause of the blaze was still under investigation.
The report made clear that previous information from the US governmentthat the left-hand, American-made International Aero Engines V2500 engine was closed down was incorrect, confirming it continued to function.
The London-to-Oslo flight BA762 turned back to Heathrow soon after takeoff on 24 May. Passengers and witnesses saw smoke and flames emanating from the plane. The 75 passengers and crew were evacuated via emergency slides on landing.
Both runways at Heathrow were closed briefly, and British Airways cancelled all short-haul flights until 4pm the same day.
The British Airways chief executive, Keith Williams, said: “We welcome the publication of the AAIB interim report. We continue to co-operate fully with the investigation team and can confirm that appropriate initial action has already been taken in accordance with the AAIB’s safety recommendation to Airbus.
“We regret we are precluded from releasing or discussing any additional details while the AAIB investigation is ongoing.
“We commend the professionalism of the flight crew for the safe landing of the plane and the cabin crew and pilots for its safe evacuation. We continue to offer our full support to those customers who were onboard the flight.”
An Airbus spokesman said: “We’re supporting the AAIB-led investigation and will be following its recommendations.”
Passengers expressed incredulity that the emergency was caused by a known risk. Alexandra Townsley, 27, a solicitor from west London, who was sitting in seat 5F beside the right-hand engine, said: “I think people who were on board are going to be very angry. It’s one thing to think that things go wrong, but this seems to be something standard that wasn’t checked – what procedures are in place? If it’s something that can be missed that easily and is missed repeatedly, I don’t see why Airbus can’t find a way to fix it so it can’t happen again.”
She added: “It sounds like this was a lucky miss.”
She said of the flight: “It was absolutely terrifying. We knew something was wrong right on takeoff as we saw the cowl door ripped off, just as the wheels came off the ground. I find it strange that the report says that crew weren’t initially aware that anything was wrong. We were all shouting.”
Jean Ralphs, a passenger who was sitting in seat 3F on the flight, said: “I will not fly on the first flight of a day on any Airbus plane until this is sorted out. I don’t think the answer is adequate.”
David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global, said: “It would have been difficult to fly with the damage to the wings and exterior – but well within the capability of a highly trained crew.”
The AAIB’s full report will follow, probably in several months.
An earlier case of cowl doors not closed:
AAIB Bulletin: 7/2000
No.1 engine cowling debris left on runway after take off. Aircraft diverted to Stansted and
landed safely on full emergency.
SAFETY RECOMMENDATION – 2000-026
It is recommended that the DGAC mandate aircraft modification aimed at appreciably
reducing the likelihood of A320 fan cowl doors inadvertently remaining unlatched after
maintenance. It is considered that, while measures to exhot maintenance personnel to
ensure that doors are latched and to improve the conspicuity of unfastened latches may
assist, they are unlikely to be fully effective and modification aimed at providing obvious
indication of unlatched doors is required.
…… and there is more at http://www.aaib.gov.uk/cms_resources.cfm?file=/Annual%20Safety%20Report%202012.pdf
and another case in South Africa in May 2012
Incident: TAM A320 at Natal on May 19th 2012, dropped fan cowl doors
By Simon Hradecky, created Sunday, May 20th 2012
A TAM Linhas Aereas Airbus A320-200, registration PR-MYP performing flight JJ-3317 from Natal,RN to Sao Paulo Guarulhos,SP (Brazil) with 166 people on board, was departing Natal when both inboard and outboard fan cowl doors of the left engine (CFM56) opened in flight and were ripped off the engine. The crew levelled off, burned off fuel for about one hour and returned to Natal for a safe landing.
Passengers described the event as an engine explosion.
There is a passenger video – taken out of the window at take-off, showing the cowl door suddenly flipping up and breaking off. There is then a period of some consternation among the passengers, and after a while, the filming of the damaged engine cowl resumes as the plane burns up fuel before landing.
More information at http://avherald.com/h?article=44fd6ef8