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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 22 January, 2020
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Belfast plane incident during takeoff could have been 'catastrophic'

The Boeing 737 failed to accelerate at the necessary speed and struck an approach light on the runway.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Dejan Milinkovic

A SERIOUS INCIDENT during the takeoff of a passenger plane carrying 185 people could have had “catastrophic” consequences, according to investigators. 

The Canadian Boeing 737, owned by Sunwing Airlines struggled to takeoff at Belfast International Airport and struck a runway approach light last July, following a crew error. 

A report into the incident has found that on 21 July 2017 the plane travelling to Corfu, Greece took off with insufficient power to meet regulated performance requirements and struck an approach light on the runway. 

According to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) an incorrect outside air temperature (OAT) was entered into the Flight Management Computer (FMC) by a member of the crew. 

An OAT of -52 degrees was registered instead of the actual temperature which was 16 degrees. 

“This, together with the correctly calculated assumed temperature thrust reduction of 48 degrees, meant the aircraft engines were delivering only 60% of their maximum rated thrust,” the report said. 

The error was not noticed by the crew until the plane began to rapidly approach the end of the runway and “no action was taken to either reject the takeoff or increase engine thrust”.

‘Catastrophic’

The plane proceeded to take off with “insufficient power to meet regulated performance requirements” and struck one of the supplementary approach lights. 

Investigators found that the plane was saved from further collisions due to the “benign nature” of the surrounding area after the runway. 

“Had an engine failed at a critical moment during the takeoff, the consequences could have been catastrophic.”

The thrust was increased by pilots after the 737 had climbed to around 800 ft and travelled two and a half miles. 

The plane then continued safely to Corfu and no injuries were reported. 

The event was not reported to the AAIB by the aircraft commander, aircraft
operator or the tour operator on behalf of which the flight was being undertaken but was reported by the Transportation Safety Board in Canada. 

The AIIB has recommended that safety systems be introduced to warn pilots of abnormally low acceleration before take-off, and low altitude afterwards.

As a result of the initial findings of this investigation into this serious incident, the aircraft operator began a programme of upgrading their fleet of B737s. 

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Adam Daly

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