British Airways Jet Engine Fire Showed Airbus Plane Damage Risk

Airbus SAS single-aisle jets may suffer more extensive damage from engine door separation than previously thought, the U.K. safety agency investigating an incident involving a British Airways airliner said.

The single-aisle plane took off from London Heathrow on May 24 and lost the fan cowl covers on both engines, forcing the crew to return to the hub after the jet sustained damage, the Air Accident Investigation Board said in a report today. It was the first such event leading to an engine fire, it said.

“This event has shown that the consequences of fan cowl door detachment are unpredictable and can present greater risk to flight safety than previously experienced,” the AAIB said. The cause of the engine fire remains under review, it said.

The engine doors on the flight to Oslo were not properly latched after maintenance and detached on takeoff, the London-based organization said. The event created secondary damage to wing control surfaces, landing gear and a fuel pipe.

The right engine caught fire, causing the plane to leave a trail of smoke as it overflew London on its return to Heathrow. The crew shut down the power plant, built by the International Aero Engines joint venture, with the other still functioning.

Although extinguishing equipment was activated, the fire was not entirely suppressed, leaving it to airport emergency personnel to put out the flames after the plane landed, the AAIB said. The 75 passengers and 5 crew members escaped the incident uninjured.

Airbus alerted airlines a year ago about how to properly inspect the part in response to 32 door detachments, with 80 percent occurring on takeoff, the safety authority said. The AAIB recommended Airbus instruct operators to assure the latches are secured by undertaking visual inspections.

Attaching the latches typically requires maintenance personnel to lie on the ground to secure the doors, the AAIB said. The fan cowl door latches are difficult to see unless a mechanic crouches down so that the bottom of the engine is clearly visible, the AAIB said.

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