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Fuel leak alert ignored by air crew

Published 14/07/2015

The British Airways Airbus A319 after its emergency landing at Heathrow airport
The British Airways Airbus A319 after its emergency landing at Heathrow airport

Aircraft technicians for a flight which was forced to conduct an emergency landing at Heathrow might have been fatigued, while cabin crew failed to act on concerns from alarmed passengers about the state of the plane, an investigation has shown.

The British Airways Airbus A319 returned to the west London airport with smoke billowing from one of its engines, minutes into its flight to Oslo, Norway, on May 24 2013.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said doors on both engines had been left unlatched during maintenance and made a raft of suggestions designed to prevent such an incident happening again.

The unlatching of the fan cowl doors had not been identified before the plane took off with 75 passengers and five crew on board.

The 50-year-old captain decided to make the emergency landing four minutes after take-off, with the aircraft suffering a punctured fuel pipe and a fire in the right engine.

Passengers and crew evacuated via the escape slides without injury.

A report highlighted a series of safety recommendations, including tackling crew fatigue and in-flight damage assessments.

The report heard two technicians observing the plane before take-off failed to notice the Airbus was the "wrong" aircraft.

The report said: "Analysis of their working time records showed that there was an increased risk that their performance could be compromised by fatigue.

"This was induced by the significant level of planned and overtime working that they had carried out prior to and including the shift in question.

"There was a two-in-five chance that (the technicians) experienced high levels of sleepiness."

The investigation found a maintenance error led to the fan cowl doors on both engines being left unlatched following scheduled overnight work on the aircraft. The unlatched condition of the fan cowl doors was not identified before the aircraft's departure the next morning.

A number of organisational factors contributed to the maintenance error. The operator has since taken action to address these issues, the report said.

The AAIB said "several passengers" said they attempted to inform a member of cabin crew about the leaking fluid from the right engine.

The report said: "It is unclear when or how the passengers attempted to draw this to the attention of the cabin crew, or indeed which cabin crew members were involved, but it is evidence from photographs and passenger reports that the fuel leak was clearly visible through the cabin windows.

"Despite these cues, information regarding the fuel leak was not assimilated by the cabin crew and not passed to the flight crew as required."

An initial report into the incident was published days after. BA said "appropriate initial action" had been taken in accordance with the AAIB's preliminary safety recommendation.

Commenting on the report, BA executive chairman Keith Williams said: "The safety of our customers and crew is always our highest priority.

"The changes we have already made to our procedures, along with the safety recommendations for EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency) and Airbus, will prevent occurrences of this type of incident in the future.

"It is through co-operation with the AAIB and other safety bodies that we, and the airline industry as a whole, can continue to improve the safety of flying and prevent future incidents.

"Our highly trained pilots and cabin crew ensured our customers' safety throughout the flight and the subsequent evacuation."

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