Aircraft manufacturers face safety questions

Urgent safety recommendations for Boeing and the A380 problems.
ANALYSIS
A Boeing 777 belonging to British Airways lost power on its final approach  to Heathrow airport on January 17, 2008
A Boeing 777 belonging to British Airways lost power on its final approach to Heathrow airport on January 17, 2008

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Urgent safety recommendations for Boeing and problems for Emirates’ A380.

Air safety authority, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued an urgent safety recommendation to airlines warning that similar events that occurred last year with Boeing 777 aircraft belonging to British Airways and Delta Air Lines could happen again.

The first accident occurred on January 17 last year when a British Airways passenger jet lost power on its final approach to Heathrow and the second incident, on November 26, involved a Delta Air Lines flight from Shanghai to Atlanta.

After analysing both incidents, it was found that low temperatures had caused ice blockages, resulting in a loss of engine power. Boeing then published a set of guidelines for pilots to follow if they experienced similar problems.

Waiting game

Brian Walker, Middle East & Africa communications for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told Aviation Business: “Boeing has provided airlines with a number of operational procedures to assure that ice does not accrue in fuel systems and that clear any blockages that might occur. These operational procedures assure that an accident similar to BA 38 will not recur and that the continued operation of the RR Trent 800 powered 777 is safe under all operating conditions until hardware modifications become available.”

But while airlines wait for delivery of the new engine component from Rolls Royce, the NTSB’s acting chairman told the media that with two of these rollback events occurring within a year, there was a high probability of something similar happening again.

Airlines react

British Airways has 15 out of the 220 Boeing 777-200 planes worldwide that use the engine, known as the Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 800 and the aircraft serves its long-haul routes to the Middle East and Gulf destinations. But the airline maintained that it would continue to fly the passenger jet, while adhering to requirements.

British Airways commercial manager Middle East Paolo De Renzis, explained that these requirements - issued to all operators of Boeing 777s powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines - included, on-ground refuelling procedures required only if fuel temperature did not rise above freezing and if in-flight acceleration and altitude climbed to increase fuel usage rates within two hours (it was previously three) before the top of descent.

“As a precaution we have also stopped operating back-to-back flights on routes where cold temperatures are expected. Ultimately, we would simply not operate any aircraft if there was a genuine risk to safety,” De Renzis said.

Other international airlines using Boeing 777s on long-haul routes to the Middle East include Singapore Airlines, which took delivery of its 77th 777 in January this year.

Singapore Airlines vice president of public affairs Stephen Forshaw told Aviation Business that the airline is in constant contact with Rolls Royce and aircraft manufacturer Boeing and explained that matters out of the ordinary would be flagged up.

“All our pilots have also been briefed in detail on what actions to take to prevent ice build-up in fuel flow systems,” he said.

Passenger’s choice

Commenting on whether the airlines had seen a drop in the number of passengers booking flights on Boeing 777s, BA said it did not break down load factors on specific aircraft type as it was commercially sensitive, but Forshaw revealed: “Demand as a whole within the industry has declined due to the current global economic situation, but we have not seen an impact on bookings for flights operated by the Boeing 777 aircraft as a result of the BA and Delta incidents.”

Rolls-Royce said it expects to have a redesigned engine component ready at the start of next year, and both BA and Singapore confirmed that it continues to stay in contact with the aero-engine maker.

In a separate incident surrounding Boeing aircraft, it has been reported that a faulty altimeter caused the autopilot system on the Turkish Airlines 737-800 that crashed on 25 February, 2009 on approach to Amsterdam, to reduce power prematurely.

According to reports, the Dutch Safety Board’s chairman, Pieter van Vollenhoven, said that by the time the pilots reacted it was “too late to recover the flight”.

Problems for the A380

In other safety-related news, Emirates has met with Airbus to report technical issues the airline has experienced with its new A380.

German magazine Der Spiegel said Emirates took a 46-page set of slides to what the publication called a “crisis meeting” between the two companies outlining maintenance problems with the aircraft.

Technical issues expected

An Emirates spokesperson, said: “We recently met with Airbus executives to give them feedback on the A380’s reliability performance, including various technical issues which we had identified during our operations. These were presented at the meeting, and the paper mentioned by Der Spiegel are the presentation slides.

“Technical issues are expected with new aircraft - particularly one that uses many new technologies. Naturally, as the airline operator, we want these to be resolved as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.

Deliveries continue

The airline added that it maintained a good relationship with the European plane maker and confirmed that it had no plans to cancel any orders.

In response, Airbus told Aviation Business that it had increased its stock of spares at A380 locations, as well as response teams and technical support.

Regarding the recent emergency landing at Melbourne airport of flight EK 407, bound for Dubai, on March 20, 2009, Emirates could not confirm at the time of press whether or not the A340’s tail did actually strike the runway and said that the incident was under investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. 

More accidents fewer fatalities

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the total number of fatalities from aviation accidents dropped from 692 in 2007 to 502 in 2008. But there were 109 accidents in 2008 compared to 100 in 2007. The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is the global industry standard for airline safety management. For more information see www.iata.org/registry.

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