Jan 182008

Today’s crash landing of a British Airways Boeing 777-200 will throw massive shocks through the aviation industry worldwide, if early speculation of a catastrophic power loss in both engines turns out to be correct.

That no-one was fatally injured is not only a credit to the skill of the pilots, but also to the strength of construction Boeing puts into its products. Anyone who has stood at an airport viewing area, as I often do, and watched a 777 roll past at close range will realise that this aircraft is huge. It utilises the largest, in size and capacity, engines ever mounted to a commercial passenger aircraft. It seems extraordinary to me that both of these Rolls Royce Trent 895 engines should lose power at the same time, leaving the aircraft to glide.
Did the aircraft run out of fuel? Frankly, that’s impossible under current international flight regulations. All aircraft must carry sufficient fuel, plus diversion fuel, plus a large margin for adverse weather, plus an additional margin on top. Did the flight suffer bird-strike? It’s a possibility, however, the odds of both engines being shutdown due to bird-strike must be extremely low. One point to consider is that landings at Heathrows main runways are made on long, straight approaches, and almost always using the Instrument Landing System (ILS) which allows the pilots to act as backups to the aircraft’s automated systems. BA038 was apparently banking on approach to it’s landing and banking at a very sharp angle approximating 45 degrees. The question which arises in my mind is were the automated systems on board at fault?
Time and investigations of the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorders will tell, no doubt. It seems near impossible to me that pilot error is to blame. Pilots on approach and very close to landing don’t make mistakes. Machines will fail though. It remains to be seen whether this 6 year old 777-200 has revealed an automated systems problem, or worse, a technical failure of interlinked mechanics.