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'Catastrophic' incident narrowly avoided after pilots set wrong temperature on plane leaving Belfast carrying 185

Boeing 737 hit approach light as it struggled to climb after take-off

Belfast International Airport where the plane took off from
Belfast International Airport where the plane took off from

By James Gant

A "catastrophic" incident was narrowly avoided at Belfast International Airport last year after pilots entered the wrong outside temperature on a Boeing 737 plane carrying 185 passengers.

Setting the temperature to -52C instead of 16C, the plane struggled to take off before it reached the end of the runway and flew low for two and a half miles after that.

A formal report on the incident was released on Wednesday by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AIBB), restating much of the detail in a special bulletin released in September last year. 

The findings have been revealed as part of an investigation into the incident.

The Boeing 737 tried to take off without enough power to meet regulations and hit an approach light as it left the runway.

Its engines were only able to deliver 60% thrust which the crew did not realise until it reached the end of the strip.

The plane, which was on a Sunwing holiday flight from Belfast to Corfu at 3.39pm on July 21 last year, began to rotate and climbed at a very slow rate.

Full thrust was applied around 4km away from the airport - when they were just 800ft off the ground - but continued its flight to Greece.

The Canadian carrier was undamaged but it was only the 'benign nature' of the runway, the terrain elevation and the lack of obstacles that allowed it to climb safely.

If an engine had failed during takeoff, the "consequences could have been catastrophic".

An investigation was launched three days later to prevent any repeat incident but was not commissioned to point blame.

It found the outside air temperature put into the flight management computer was significantly below what was needed for the aircraft weight and environmental conditions.

The report said the incorrect data and the abnormal acceleration along the runway was not realised by the crew until the end of the runway and no action was taken to either abort the takeoff or increase engine thrust.

Further factors that contributed to the incident included the computer not having the capability to alert the flight crew to the fact they entered the incorrect temperature.

The investigation concluded that the crew were unlikely to detect the abnormally low acceleration because of normal limitations in human performance.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch recommended all Boeing 737s have a software upgrade.

They were available but had not been installed on the flight.

It suggested safety systems should be introduced to tell pilots when a plane has an unusually low acceleration before take-off.

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