May 2013

An initial report from the Air Accident Investigation Board has cited improper maintenance as the cause of last Friday’s emergency landing at Heathrow.

The report states that the cowls, which cover the aircraft’s engines, were not properly shut and, as a result, came off in flight. At least one of the cowls, which weigh up to 40kgs, struck the aircraft and caused damage to the wing, fuselage, landing gear and fuel pipe.

This is not the first time that this has happened with over 30 similar incidents previously reported to Airbus, the manufacturer of the A319 involved. Indeed last year Airbus issued a safety warning to all airlines involved, stressing the importance of properly fixing the cowls.

With regards the engine-fire, the AAIB added that previous incidents involving cowls coming off had never resulted in an engine fire and that investigations were continuing. It also made clear that earlier claims, emanating from the US, that the left-hand engine had stopped working, were incorrect.

Keith Williams

Keith Williams

Commenting on the report, British Airways CEO Keith Williams said: ”We welcome the publication of the AAIB interim report. We continue to co-operate fully with the investigation team and can confirm that appropriate initial action has already been taken in accordance with the AAIB’s safety recommendation to Airbus. We regret we are precluded from releasing or discussing any additional details while the AAIB investigation is ongoing. We commend the professionalism of the flight crew for the safe landing of the plane and the cabin crew and pilots for its safe evacuation. We continue to offer our full support to those customers who were on board the flight.”

Heathrow airport has announced that it will increase penalties on the noisiest aircraft as well as ranking airlines overall for how quiet their aircraft are.

Management at Britain’s busiest airport claim that their program for a quieter Heathrow is all about being a better neighbour and unrelated to their attempts to have a 3rd runway approved.

british airways 747The airport already levies penalties on noisy aircraft but wants to further increase these to a maximum of £1000 per flight for the worst offenders. As a general rule-of-thumb, the older the aircraft, the noisier it is. Accordingly, British Airways, by far the largest airline at Heathrow, and with an above average age for its fleet, is likely to take a hit. The airline is the world’s largest operator of the 747 and also has a significant number of 767s. Many of these aircraft are more than 10 years old and will almost certainly be classified as ‘noisy’.

British Airways does have an ambitious fleet renewal plan in place which will see its older aircraft replaced by newer, quieter models such as the A380, 787 & A350. However, such renewals don’t occur overnight so British Airways is likely to still be operating a fair number of 747s & 767s in 5 years time. Like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic also operates an ageing fleet although it has finally begun the process of replacing its noisy A340s witn new A330 aircraft.

Qatar Airways AircraftUnfortunately for both British Airways & Virgin Atlantic, many of their competitors operate much younger aircraft and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Gulf carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways & Etihad who seem intent on buying up anything that Boeing & Airbus can offer.

As well as penalising the noisiest aircraft and ranking airlines, Heathrow have also released plans that involve aircraft landing at steeper angles and trialing new departure routes.

Speaking about their plans, the airport’s chief executive commented: “Heathrow is at the forefront of international efforts to tackle aircraft noise and as a result, even though the number of flights has almost doubled since the 1970s, fewer people are affected by noise. We will continue to work with airlines, Nats, policy makers and local communities to further reduce aircraft noise while safeguarding the vital connectivity and economic growth that Heathrow provides.”

British Airways Heathrow

Yesterday we discussed British Airways lack of routes to South America and why many in the industry feel that now is the time for the airline to significantly increase its footprint.

BritishAirwaysChileSo, just where in South America might British Airways fly to? Well, let’s start with where we believe they won’t fly.

Despite its huge oil reserves, Venezuela has become something of a basket case, both economically and politically, so British Airways will not be flying to Caracas we don’t feel. The economies and populations of Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay and Uruguay are still far too small so we don’t think that British Airways will fly to any of them anytime soon.

That leaves Argentina & Brazil, which British Airways already fly to, plus Chile, Peru & Columbia.

Argentina is really all about Buenos Aires and, as a result, we don’t see British Airways flying to any other destinations within the country.

TAM 767Brazil is the largest country in South America with by far the biggest economy and population. Although its economic growth has slowed, it is at least still growing, as is trade and tourism with the UK. The World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016 are also sure to further increase traffic. Sao Paulo & Rio are Brazil’s dominant cities however and rather than risk new destinations, we feel that British Airways will simply increase capacity to Sao Paulo & Rio, either with increased frequencies or bigger aircraft (perhaps even introducing the A380 to Sao Paulo in time for the World Cup) and using TAM to generate increased feeder traffic.

Within South America, Chile, Peru & Columbia are possibly the most successful economies at present; all 3 are stable, outward looking and committed to free trade. Together with Mexico, they form the Pacific Alliance, the region’s newest and most promising trading bloc, committed to reducing trade barriers such as restrictions on airlines & flights.

Of these 3 countries, Chile, the most economically advanced, is probably the most likely new destination for British Airways, especially as oneworld partner LAN has its base in the capital, Santiago de Chile.

The economy of Columbia is also very strong and, with its relative proximity to the USA, British Airways’ key market,  we feel that Bogota would be the second new destination for British Airways within South America.

British Airways PeruFinally, Peru, like Chile, is a long flight from the UK but has a strong and growing economy and, far more so than both Chile and Columbia, has very strong appeal to the leisure market. We therefore rate Lima as the third most likely destination within South America to receive British Airways flights.

Whether any of these predictions come to fruition only time will tell. One slight caveat is that all 3 routes will only become practical once British Airways has the 787 in its fleet. As none have yet been delivered, and the first 7 have been set aside to replace existing, ageing 767s, it may not be until late 2014 or even 2015 that the airline can even consider new routes to South America.

787 Dreamliner

787 Dreamliner






The UK Guardian has reported that UK aviation authorities deny US investigators’ claim that one engine shut down and one was on fire before Heathrow emergency landing.

Apparently, information from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which is assisting the UK Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) suggests that last week’s incident may have been more serious than so far revealed.

The NTSB, which is involved because the engines on the plane were manufactured in the US, has claimed that the engine cowls on both engines were torn from the plane or or after take off. Footage taken from on board the plan which you can see here clearly shows one engine at least missing a cowl.

The US authorities have reported that one engine was shut down and the other on fire at the time of the emergency landing.  This report is apparently denied by the AAIB which is expected to publish an interim report tomorrow.  At the time of writing this, the writer could find no mention of the reported disagreement between the two agencies on either of their websites or twitter feeds, but if further information comes to light we will update the report.

140 London-bound passengers were forced to overnight in Venice last night because crew on their British Airways flight had exceeded their maximum hours.

Strict aviation laws determine the exact number of hours that pilots and cabin crew can work; once those limits have been reached, crew are unable to operate flights, regardless of the consequences. The result, some 140 passengers spent the night sleeping on the floor at Venice Marco Polo airport as British Airways was unable to find any available accommodation nearby.


The flight has been scheduled to depart Venice at 22:30 local time but wad delayed due to a technical fault.  The ongoing delay meant that the crew then reached the end of their allowed working day although the pilots were able to fly the aircraft back to the UK.

Responding to the incident, British Airways released the following statement:

“We’re very sorry for the disruption faced by our customers and will work with them to provide compensation. We always do everything we can to avoid an overnight flight delay, but when this happens we offer hotel accommodation to those travelling with us. Unfortunately, due to the volume of visitors to Venice we could not secure any rooms for our customers or cabin crew. The aircraft due to operate the flight to Gatwick was delayed into Venice because of a technical fault earlier in the day. Unfortunately this meant that the cabin crew responsible for the safety of our customers had exceeded their available working hours, and were unable to operate the flight back to London. The two pilots were still within their hours and returned the aircraft to London. We have sent a replacement aircraft to Venice this morning to carry those affected customers back to Gatwick.”

This incident closely follows last week’s drama when a British Airways flight bound for Oslo had to return to Heathrow for an emergency landing after one of its engines caught fire. The resulting closure of the runway led to numerous flight delays and cancellations which British Airways has already said it will not compensate passengers for. Certainly a week the airline will want to forget.