So, Flybe, what exactly DO you say is an emergency? Anger as airline plays down plane’s engine fire
Passengers onboard a plane that caught fire mid-flight have hit out at the airline operator for insisting their safety was not at risk.
Flybe has received stinging criticism for the remarks, which came shortly after the twin-engine turboprop carrying 80 people made an emergency landing at Belfast International Airport.
The airport's response to the crisis was also condemned last night, with those caught up in the drama calling for an urgent review of is emergency procedures.
Passengers told of their horror at seeing flames billow from an engine midway through the flight from Glasgow to Belfast, but in a statement after the drama on Tuesday evening, Flybe said that flight BE130 was "diverted to Belfast International Airport due a small engine fire, which was extinguished before landing".
The airline added: "At no time was the safety and well-being of passengers compromised. Flybe operates its fleet of aircraft in strict compliance with all manufacturers' guidelines."
Passengers said they were stunned by the remarks.
Quintin Oliver, a lobbyist who was on the flight, said: "We had a fireball outside our window and they say we were not at risk? Why call a Mayday then?"
The flight, with 76 passengers and four crew aboard, was diverted from its scheduled landing at George Best Belfast City Airport, instead touching down at Belfast International. This was due to that airport's longer runway.
An investigation into what caused the engine fire is under way.
After the incident, some passengers voiced concerns that a number of them had to escape by jumping six feet from the back of the plane onto the runway, as there were no rear stairs.
They also told of a scene of alarm and confusion on the aircraft, which continued when the plane touched down.
Mr Oliver said the airport must review its response to the emergency, which he said was "far from five-star".
He said the aircraft left Glasgow at 6.20pm with the emergency occurring about halfway into the flight, around 15 or 20 minutes from landing.
"When there is a fire you would expect somebody to take the lead, and I didn't get that sense," he said. "There was a looseness there. It could have been more professional and it was certainly not a five-star crisis communications textbook case."
Another added: "We did feel a little worried when people were running onto the grass. Some people were running behind the plane.
"There seemed to be no point of meeting or coming together. That's when it got a wee bit scary - who was in charge?"
Ten fire engines and nine ambulances were tasked to the airport when the alert was raised.
Andrew McConnell of Flybe yesterday told this newspaper: "Safety of our customers is absolutely our priority in these circumstances and the plane will be out of commission.
"We are very concerned at the impact on the customers who were affected by this incident last night. There are fire extinguishers within the engine systems and that is why we were aware that the fire was put out before the plane landed."
A spokeswoman for Belfast International Airport said: "The airport immediately invoked emergency procedures. The airport fire service met the aircraft on landing, assisted the passengers off the aircraft and moved them to safety while the fire was extinguished. Our teams constantly train for this type of incident and their professionalism at the scene was clearly in evidence."
The airline says:
“Flybe can confirm that flight BE130 from Glasgow to Belfast City diverted to Belfast International Airport due a small engine fire which was extinguished before landing. At no time was the safety and well-being of passengers compromised”
A passenger says:
“They said it was a small fire but it was definitely not a small fire. It was obvious that it was a pretty full-blown engine fire. Had there been a couple of older ladies on the flight, they would have busted their legs jumping out of the plane at the back”