2/20/2005: British Airways Flight 268

2/20/2005: British Airways Flight 268

British Airways Boeing 747-400 (G-BYGG). Photo: Luca Flores/Airways.

DALLAS — Today, in 2005, the innermost left engine of a British Airways (BA) Boeing 747-400 burst into flames after taking off from Los Angeles.

Flight 268 was a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR). A compressor stall caused the engine to burst. 

Despite air traffic controllers’ expectations that the pilots conduct an emergency landing at the airport, the aircraft managed to fly through the United States, Canada, and the Atlantic Ocean with its three remaining engines. The flight then made an emergency landing at Manchester Airport (MAN), citing insufficient usable fuel to reach LHR.

The aircraft involved in the incident – G-BNLG. Photo: Aldo Bidini (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons

The Incident

The flight took off at about 9:24 pm local time on February 20, 2005. As the aircraft was about 300 feet in the air, flames burst out of the number 2 engine of the four-engine Boeing 747-436 due to an engine surge. The pilots decided to shut down the powerplant, and LAX air traffic control predicted that the plane would return to the airport.

The pilots agreed, however, after consultation with the airline dispatcher, to set off on their flight plan “and get as far as we can” instead of dumping 70 tons of fuel and landing back at LAX. 

The Boeing 747 is licensed to fly with three engines. Once over the East Coast, the assessment was that the aircraft should proceed safely across the pond.

The cross-Atlantic flight encountered less favorable conditions than predicted. The captain declared an emergency upon reaching the UK, assuming there was insufficient available fuel to reach LHR, and landed at MAN to refuel and head to his original destination.

Manchester Airport viewed from above. Photo: Manchester Airport

FAA-CAA Dispute

After the incident, a safety dispute ensued. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accused the airline of operating an ‘unairworthy’ plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Then, the FAA suggested a fine of US$25,000 for BA.

The British airline appealed because it was flying under the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules, which are derived from International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

The controversy was put to rest when the FAA told BA it was dropping the case based on assurances that airline changes would preclude the type of extended operation that was the subject of the enforcement action. BA said it had not changed its procedures, and the FAA said it would recognize the “CAA’s determination that the aircraft was not unairworthy.”

Photo: Misael Ocasio Hernandez/Airways

Further Investigation

The investigation report recommended that BA revise its training of crews in three-engine operation fuel management procedures.

During the inquiry, the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch discovered that one of the eight tracks on the Flight Data Recording tape had been erased during the flight due to a short circuit in the Honeywell-manufactured unit, resulting in the loss of over three hours of data.

The aircraft involved in the incident, registered as G-BNLG, was eventually repaired and remained in service until December 2014. BA still uses flight number 268 for flights from Los Angeles to London, and the carrier’s Boeing 747-400 continued to fly the route until the Airbus A380 later replaced the Jumbo in 2013.

Featured Image: British Airways Boeing 747-400 (G-BYGG). Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

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