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March 1, 2005
Great Moments In Air Safety

The Captain's cousin writes today that he traveled to England last week on a no-frills British Airways flight. When he says no-frills, he really means it. British Airways saved 100,000 on his flight by cutting back on such luxuries as engines and common sense:

A BRITISH AIRWAYS jumbo jet carrying 351 passengers was forced to make an emergency landing after an 11-hour transatlantic flight with a failed engine.

The fault occurred on take-off from Los Angeles but the pilot declined all opportunities to land in the US and instead continued on three engines for 5,000 miles to Britain.

The incident happened three days after a European regulation came into force requiring airlines to compensate passengers for long delays or cancellations. Under the new rules, if the pilot had returned to Los Angeles, BA would have been facing a compensation bill of more than 100,000.

So to save themselves 100,000, the pilot refused to land the airplane anywhere inside the United States and insisted on going on to London. It's not as if the pilot didn't understand the nature of the malfunction, either, as the Times of London describes the action pretty plainly:

Air traffic controllers at Los Angeles spotted streams of sparks shooting from the engine and immediately radioed the pilot. He attempted to throttle the engine back but was forced to shut it down after it continued to overheat. The plane then began circling over the Pacific while the pilot contacted BAs control centre in London to discuss what to do. They decided the flight should continue to London even though it would burn more fuel on just three engines.

The Boeing 747 was unable to climb to its cruising altitude of 36,000ft and had to cross the Atlantic at 29,000ft, where the engines perform less efficiently and the tailwinds are less favourable. The unbalanced thrust also meant the pilot had to apply more rudder, causing extra drag.

The pilot realised as he flew over the Atlantic that he was running out of fuel and would not make it to Heathrow. He requested an emergency landing at Manchester and was met by four fire engines and thirty firefighters on the runway.

The BA spokesman insisted that the decision to fly on to England was made with the best interests of the passengers in mind. Somehow BA never quite explains how running out of gas over the Atlantic benefits the passengers, nor how an engine blowing out on takeoff for a transcontinental flight doesn't warrant a stop somewhere before the plane goes across 5,000 miles of ocean. One of the passengers that British Airways held in such high regard (besides my cousin) happened to be an aviation-security specialist, who pronounced himself "disgusted" by BA's pence-pinching.

Perhaps we need to add a new regulation to transcontinental flights which require a corporate officer or a member of their immediate family on all such flights. Do you suppose for a moment that BA would have just kept going to London had Martin Broughton's children been on board that flight? Not on his life, although apparently on just about everybody else's.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 1, 2005 1:24 PM

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» Euro Air from Dangerous Dan
Captain's Quarters notes this story of a British Airways jet that flew from L.A. to England on three engines after the fourth went out shortly after takeoff. The plane was supposed to make it all the way to London but had to make an emergency landing... [Read More]

Tracked on March 2, 2005 8:44 AM

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