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Wall Street Journal reports on BA 747 3 engine LAX-MAN flight

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Wall Street Journal reports on BA 747 3 engine LAX-MAN flight

Old 23rd Sep 2006, 09:11
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Wall Street Journal reports on BA 747 3 engine LAX-MAN flight

Front page of the US edition of today's Wall St. Journal. Sorry but I couldn't find the original thread to append this to!

After Engine Blew,
Deciding to Fly On
'As Far as We Can'

Pilot-Tower Tapes Flesh Out
747 Incident That Triggered
A Controversy Over Safety
September 23, 2006; Page A1

A few seconds after a fully loaded British Airways 747 took off from Los Angeles on its way to London last year, one of its four engines erupted in a spectacular nighttime burst of flame.

The fire burned out quickly, but the controversy has continued to smolder.

An air-traffic controller watching the runways radioed a warning to British Airways Flight 268 and assumed the plane would quickly turn around. To controllers' surprise, the pilots checked with their company and then flew on, hoping to "get as far as we can," as the captain told the control tower. The jumbo jet ultimately traveled more than 5,000 miles with a dead engine before making an emergency landing in Manchester, England, as the crew worried about running out of fuel.

The Los Angeles air-traffic-control tapes, obtained by The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act, show that controllers who saw the fiery engine failure with the jet just 296 feet in the air were immediately concerned about the flight and ready to guide it back to the airport. But the decision to return or keep flying rested with the captain and the airline. Ever since, pilots and aviation regulators have debated the decision of the pilots and British Airways. Their questions: Even if the plane was capable of reaching its destination, and perhaps legal to fly, was it smart to try? And was it safe?


"It appears you have flames" (0:55)
Windows Media: LISTEN1
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"We're just doing the checks" (0:21)
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"We are going to consult our company" (0:17)
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"Is he going?" "He's going" (2:22)
Windows Media: LISTEN7
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• Scott McCartney talks about the controversy9

The incident also focused renewed attention on an age-old issue in aviation -- safety versus economics. An emergency landing would have required dumping $30,000 of fuel, and the airline might have owed $275,000 in compensation to passengers under European Union rules if the flight was more than five hours late. The British Airways pilots' union questioned whether the EU compensation rules, only days old at the time, pressured airlines into pushing flights into risky situations. And in online discussions, pilots wondered if the three pilots might have been pressured into a risky flight to save the airline money.

British Airways says dollars played no role whatever in the decision to keep flying. It points out that the decision was legal under British regulations. A British inquiry ultimately said "no evidence was found to show that the flight continuation posed a significant increase in risk."

Flight 268 also set off a feud between U.S. and United Kingdom regulators over which nation's rules would apply. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, taking a different view of the incident than British regulators, opened its own investigation and then an enforcement action, charging British Airways with flying the jet in an "unairworthy condition." The FAA proposed a $25,000 fine. But last month, the FAA quietly dropped the matter rather than fight in court with British Airways and possibly U.K. regulators as well.

While 747s are certified to fly on three engines, doing so leaves much less room for error. They fly a bit slower and can't reach the highest altitudes, where thin air creates less drag, so fuel use increases by about 8%. The real risk is that if the plane should lose a second engine it would have more difficulty flying, especially if two engines on the same side failed -- leaving the thrust all coming from one angle and forcing extensive rudder use to keep flying straight. The plane would then have to fly even lower. Greater fuel consumption might mean the plane would have difficulty reaching an airport if it was over the ocean.

Flight 268's decision clearly surprised Los Angeles air-traffic controllers. The flight took off at about 9:24 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2005. Trouble was soon visible, as evident in radio discussions of "Speedbird 268 heavy." ("Speedbird" is aviation's call sign for British Airways; 268 was the flight number; "heavy" refers to jumbo jets.)

"Speedbird 268 heavy, it appears you have flames coming out of either your No. 1 or No. 2 engine," the tower controller radioed.

"We're shutting it down," replied the captain, already aware of a problem. British investigators later said passengers heard a bang when the engine failed, and some, like the tower, saw flames.

The tower controller alerted a colleague known as a departure controller, whose job was to take over responsibility for the flight as it left the airport.

"Speedbird 268 has got an engine shutdown. He had flames coming out of it. He's coming to you now. We don't know what he wants to do. We know he wants to come back, probably." The departure controller told the crew to climb to 5,000 feet and advise him of their intentions.

Pilot: "Roger standby. Climb and maintain 5,000. We are able. We will advise. We had a surge on takeoff and we're just doing the checks."

Departure controller: "Speedbird 268 heavy roger. Tower said you had flames coming out of the engine and it was shut down. Is that accurate?"

Pilot: "We haven't shut it down. We've throttled it back and we are doing our checklist."

The departure controller asked for the number of people on board -- standard procedure in an emergency in case there is a crash. It was 351 passengers plus 18 crew members, the pilot reported.

He next told the controller, "We have now shut down the No. 2 engine. We are going to consult our company and see what they require us to do."

After making four more 90-degree turns, and sending a co-pilot back in the cabin to look out the window at the engine, the captain said: "We just decided we want to set off on our flight-plan route and get as far as we can. So we'd like clearance to, ah, continue our flight plan."

The controller gave the captain clearance to a higher altitude. But when he called other controllers to make arrangements down the line on an internal intercom system, surprise was evident.

"Remember that Speedbird I told you about?" the controller asked a colleague.


"He's engine-out -- No. 2 engine out. He's going to continue to his destination or as far as he can get," the departure controller said.

"OK. I have no flight plan on him." The tapes show the controllers had assumed the pilot wasn't going to London, so they deleted the flight plan from the computer. To reconstruct it, the departure controller called the tower.

"Is he going?" the tower controller who had seen the engine flames asked.

"He's going," was the answer.

"If you would have saw what we saw out the window, you'd be amazed at that," said the tower controller.

As the flight moved east, the departure controller passed the pilot on to another controller. "Thanks for your help. Cheers," the captain said. "Good luck," said the departure controller.

The plane flew across the U.S. at a lower-than-usual 27,000 feet and a speed about 12% slower than normal, according to the British investigation. Hours later, the captain made a final decision about crossing the Atlantic. "Having reached the East Coast of the U.S.A. with no indications of further abnormality and with adequate predicted arrival fuel, the crew decided to continue to the U.K.," said the U.K.'s Air Accident Investigation Branch in a June 2006 report. The AAIB said the casing of a component within the Rolls-Royce engine had worn out, causing a power surge, and high temperatures did severe damage.

Winds were less favorable than anticipated across the Atlantic, causing the jet to burn more fuel than predicted. In addition, the crew became alarmed that they might not be able to access the fuel in one of the four wing tanks. The captain declared an emergency and landed in Manchester. The British investigation later found he would have had enough fuel to make it to London.

After the landing -- uneventful but for fire trucks on hand -- controversy arose among pilots. U.K. and U.S. agencies both opened investigations. Britain's learned that British Airways had flown 747s to distant destinations on three engines 15 times since April 2001.

Indeed, the same plane, with a different No. 2 engine, lost the use of that replacement in flight two weeks later. This time it was at cruising altitude, en route from Singapore to London. Pilots saw an oil-pressure warning light and shut down the engine, flying for 11 more hours safely.

The U.K.'s AAIB polled seven other airlines that fly 747s. It found that two required pilots to land at the nearest suitable airport if an engine failed before the jet reached cruising altitude; one left it up to the captain; one had no policy; and three had policies similar to that of British Airways. The agency described that policy as telling pilots to fly to their destination or another airport served by British Airways "once certain considerations have been satisfied," such as determining the bad engine was stable and the plane was safe.

British Airways says the practice is safe and prevents disruption for passengers. The AAIB agreed, considering the possibility of a second engine failure extremely remote. The AAIB did recommend that the airline review its three-engine 747 policy, as well as its training for pilots in how to manage fuel supplies in a case where an engine is out. Another British agency, the Civil Aviation Authority, which had approved the "engine-out" policy in British Airways' flight manuals, concluded the airline's decision hadn't violated safety regulations.

British Airways and the CAA both argued that the rules the carrier had to meet were Britain's, not those of the U.S. agency that was accusing the carrier of flying an "unairworthy" plane. "There's a slightly gray area," says Sir Roy McNulty, chairman of the CAA. "It's rare for an issue like this to come up. By and large, the FAA and we are perfectly aligned."

British Airways said even if U.S. rules applied, they were ambiguous. The U.S. rules require pilots who lose an engine to land at the nearest suitable airport, but, British Airways noted, they make an exception for four-engine aircraft if the pilot decides flying onward is "just as safe as landing at the nearest suitable airport." The FAA, however, didn't consider flying across the Atlantic with an engine out to be "just as safe."

In the end, the nations avoided a fight over jurisdiction with a compromise. The U.S. acknowledged that international law gave Britain's CAA oversight of British Airways, and the CAA told the U.S. the airline had agreed to change its procedures for when an engine was out, at least while flying in U.S. air space.

British Airways said it hasn't formally changed procedures but has agreed to take into account "issues that arose from this incident" if a 747 engine fails again. "We have always maintained that we operated this aircraft in strict accordance with the CAA's regulations," it said.

Last month, the FAA told British Airways it was dropping the case based on assurances that airline changes will "preclude the type of extended operation that was the subject of this enforcement action." Says the FAA: "Our goal was to get them to change their procedures, and when we found out they were changing in the U.S., we settled the case."

Write to Scott McCartney at [email protected]10

Links to the R/T in Windows Media or Real Player formats:

Hyperlinks in this Article:
(1) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/wma/me...speedbird1.asx
(2) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/rm/med.../speedbird1.rm
(3) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/wma/me...speedbird2.asx
(4) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/rm/med.../speedbird2.rm
(5) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/wma/me...speedbird3.asx
(6) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/rm/med.../speedbird3.rm
(7) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/wma/me...speedbird4.asx
(8) http://mfile.akamai.com/15086/rm/med.../speedbird4.rm
J-Class is offline  
Old 23rd Sep 2006, 11:19
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Wow - a reasonably balanced discussion of the events and issues
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 15:45
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What I find interesting are the assumptions made by ATC about the crew's intentions.....and automatically cancelling their flightplan! I wouldn't have expected that myself.
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 16:18
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747-1 = 777+1
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 16:39
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Rotornut, does that kind of logic mean that 747-2 = 777 ?
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 17:41
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What good for the goose is good for the gander? This incindent illustrates the paradox of proponents of extending the current ETOPS limits. Here we have one group who favor two engines over three or more saying it is not safe to fly on one less engine but at the same time singing praises of the benefits of two engines. Unless it is fact that a B747 is less safe than a B777. By the way I have nothing against ETOPs except when used to further profits at the expense of safety.
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 18:43
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Dejavu,Dejavu as the old song goes!. Hasn't this already been beaten to death on another thread about 12 months ago. Surely you are not going to go over all that again J Class?
Btw the easiest simplest way to reduce risk in aviation is to cancel flying! Point is everything carries some element of risk. Thats a fact
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 20:07
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Originally Posted by Flying Mech
Dejavu,Dejavu as the old song goes!. Hasn't this already been beaten to death on another thread about 12 months ago. Surely you are not going to go over all that again J Class?
Btw the easiest simplest way to reduce risk in aviation is to cancel flying! Point is everything carries some element of risk. Thats a fact
While I value the posting of the latest news story on this, I like yourself am sick and tired of discussing this ad infinitum. I can only hope that havings started yet another thread on this now boring subject that we don't resurect the same old opinions and postulations in this thread.

I didn't see any new revelations of facts in the latest article worthy of tehnical discussion. I do however feel that it does show a lack of understanding by the controllers in this incident and as such they could possibly compound a situation by assuming what a crew
will decide.
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Old 23rd Sep 2006, 23:30
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To tie into the comair thread, that controller did his job with issuing a clearance and turning his back

the LAX tower controller did much more. warning in some detail of something that all pilots should concern themselves with...FLAME. And then assuming a return to LAX would be the next thing...this controller was thinking ahead.

yet both are employed and trained by the same FAA.

and somehow we can complain about both's actions.

to any controllers out there...it is easier to cancel the crash wagons than to not have them out when you need them.

more help is probably better than not enough.

and I guess I would prefer to fly in and out of LAX than LEX...what a difference an "A" makes. (sung to the tune of , "what a difference a day makes".

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Old 24th Sep 2006, 11:35
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I agree with NigelonDraft - a fair and, it would seem, accurate report from the WSJ - it is rare that we read such quality reports on the subject of aviation in the press.

In my view the Controllers acted with total professionalism and are to be congratulated.

We did argue this one to death some time ago with many experienced pilots coming out on different sides. I respect those that held views that did not agree with my own and on the whole, enjoyed the debate. The 2 engine vs 4engine & ETOPS question is not in my view relevant to this incident.

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Old 24th Sep 2006, 15:44
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something that all pilots should concern themselves with...FLAME
You are quite correct. This serves as a useful reminder that when a jet engine surges, you get to see outside the engine something that there is inside it all the time it's running - a FLAME!

Surges are spectacular, especially in low light conditions, but non-aviation people should be reminded that they (surges) look more newsworthy from outside the flight deck.

Hey ho.
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Old 24th Sep 2006, 21:10
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Rotornut, does that kind of logic mean that 747-2 = 777 ?
Well, almost. I think that's what Boeing more or less had in mind with
the 777. But in the present situation it's certainly better to have 3 engines rather than 1.
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Old 24th Sep 2006, 23:02
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It's well worth having a look at the CAA's response to the AAIB recommendations:

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Old 25th Sep 2006, 02:29
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From the CAA response

In the latter stages of the flight the crew encountered difficulties in balancing the fuel quantities in the four main tanks. They became concerned that the contents of one tank might be unusable and declared an emergency in accordance with the operator’s procedures.
Reading all the threads its not clear (to me) why the crew thought they may have difficulties feeding from one tank. Anyone able to enlighten?
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Old 25th Sep 2006, 11:38
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This was covered in great detail in the original thread over a year ago, including diagrams of the fuel system.

Because the failure of an inboard engine on a 747 is fairly innocuous, crews have always been tested on the simulator by the failure of an outboard engine. They are therefore used to dealing with the subsequent imbalance between tanks 1 and 4. However, on this occasion the failure of No 2 engine meant that the crew had to use the Override/Jettison pumps to utilise the fuel from tank 2. When the crew diverted to Manchester, they were planning to arrive with more than the required reserve fuel. However, on the final approach a FUEL OVRD 2 FWD EICAS message appeared, and in the mistaken belief that all of the fuel in tank 2 might be unusable they took the prudent step of declaring a 'Mayday' to ensure that the runway was clear.
As all of us who have have had time to analyse this at their leisure will of course know, the Override/Jettison pumps have a stackpipe which prevents them pumping any more fuel when the tank quantity is 3,200kgs. This is to prevent the inadvertent dumping of all of the fuel. The normal fuel pumps would however have continued to pump the remaining 3,200kgs of fuel in this tank via the crossfeed valves. The aircraft actually landed with more than the required reserve fuel, all of which, with the benefit of hindsight, was usable.
One of the nice things about aviation is that we always learn from previous errors and mistakes. On our present recurrent simulator check we cover all of the fuel system problems in detail. As part of this training we replicate the exact situation the the BA crew found themself in.
I hope that this answers your question.

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Old 25th Sep 2006, 12:15
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It would appear the BBC are broadcasting to the public that the 'BA jet continued despite engine fire'. I have just emailed the BBC commenting on their inaccurate reporting. I do not work for BA, indeed I work for one of their competitors, but please!
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Old 25th Sep 2006, 12:47
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Many thanks Captain for your informative reply. I searched for the original thread for review/refresh but kept getting a "Sorry - no matches. Please try some different terms" message and the memory could'nt remember any explanation. Once again many thanks.
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Old 25th Sep 2006, 13:50
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AAIB report here

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Old 25th Sep 2006, 16:46
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Fair play to the Beeb, their report on this incident has now been updated and now refers to an engine surge and not an engine fire.
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Old 25th Sep 2006, 21:59
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With the greatest of respect, I have to ask the question; "If the identical event reoccurred at LAX tomorrow, would BA respond exactly the same way?" All other things being equal of course.
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