30 September 2006

Flying on Three of Four Engines Across the North Atlantic.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal two Fridays ago about a British Airways Boeing 747 plane that, after departing Los Angeles, had a flame shoot out of one of its four engines. The engine then stopped working. I am not an airplane pilot, but I think this is a Bad Thing. If I were the pilot, I would have turned around and returned to Los Angeles. Instead, the pilot decided (after consulting with British Airways) to continue on, across the continental US, and then onward across the North Atlantic to Heathrow. Apparently British Airways did not want to dump fuel in order to land the plane safely in Los Angeles. There was also some concern that they would have to compensate passengers for failing to get them to their destination on time. I think that they should have landed in Los Angeles. So did the air traffic controllers, they said: ""If you would have saw what we saw out the window, you'd be amazed at that."
The passengers were delayed anyway when the plane had to land in Manchester instead of Heathrow because the crew did not know how to manage the fuel so that it was spread evenly across the aircraft. The Wall Street Journal charges to access its archives, the BBC does not, so I am posting a link to a BBC article which summarizes it.
It was not just as safe to continue on three engines, because if a second engine on the same wing failed, the plane would still be able to fly, but would have to use its rudder to steer. A rudder creates drag, and the plane might not have been able to reach an airport safely if an engine had failed while they were over the middle of the North Atlantic. It also has to fly lower if it has fewer engines, and so cannot cruise as efficiently because the air is denser. In any case, here is a link to the report, published by the United Kingdom's Department for Transport, Air Accidents Investigation Branch. There is a brief one page summary, and if you would like to read the whole thing in all its detail, there is a PDF of it which you can download from that page as well.

1 comment:

surplemaple said...

I was once on a twin engine plane when 1 of the engines blew. We could feel the plane shake but it just felt like really bad turbulence. The pilot came on and announced that it would be safer to complete the flight on one engine than to try and make an emergency landing somewhere. We made it to our destination (Buffalo, unfortunately, he should have just taken us back to Florida!) but the rest of the flight was super bumpy. I'm a very calm flyer so I was fine -- I tend to believe whatever the captain tells me -- but most of the plane was freaking out. My biggest worry was whether I was gonna get a drink and some pretzels. Unfortunately, no snacks on that flight:(

And, since we're on a flying note, I'll pass along this article. You may have already read it, but it's written by one of the gentlemen who was on the little plane that collided with the big plane in Brazil. The story is really amazing -- enjoy!