MIAMI – Today in Aviation, a British Airways (BA) Boeing 747-400’s innermost left engine burst into flames after taking off from Los Angeles in 2005.

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

Despite air traffic controllers expecting the pilots to conduct an emergency landing at the airport, the BA jumbo 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.

British Airways G-BNLG_BA_B747-436,_G-BNLG. Photo: Krzysztof Kaczala, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 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 then to shut down the engine, and LAX air traffic control had 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 land back at LAX.

The Boeing 747 is licensed to fly with three engines. The assessment, once over the East Coast, 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 that there was insufficient available fuel to reach LHR, and landed at MAN to refuel and head to his original destination.

G-BNLG Boeing 747-436 (cn 24049 774) British Airways.. Photo: Andrew Thomas from Shrewsbury, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

FAA-CAA Dispute

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

The British airline lodged an appeal on the grounds that it was flying under the rules of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), 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.”

British Airways G-BNLG, the aircraft involved, in 2008. Photo: Dieselpoweridi • Public domain

Further Investigation

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

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

The plane involved in the incident, registered as G-BNLG, was eventually repaired and remained in service until December 2014. BA still uses the flight number 268 for flights from Los Angeles to London. The Boeing 747-400’s continued to fly the route until the Airbus A380s later replaced them in 2013.

Featured image: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons