Investigators Link Technicians' Fatigue to British Airways Emergency Incident

A British Airways crew safely landed their Airbus A319-131 in May 2013 after having to shut down one of the engines. The fan cowl doors from both engines detached during takeoff, causing a fuel spill and a fire in the right engine.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch has released its investigative report on a May 24, 2013, emergency landing of a British Airways Airbus A319-131 at London's Heathrow Airport. The fan cowl doors from both engines detached during takeoff from Heathrow, causing a fuel spill that passengers saw and photographed. This led to a fire in the right engine, which the crew then shut down. The left engine operated normally throughout the short flight.

The report says the fan cowl doors were left unlatched after scheduled overnight maintenance on the aircraft and indicates two maintenance technicians' fatigue contributed to that mistake. They were veteran technicians -- one, age 41, had 23 years of experience with British Airways, and the other, age 53, had 27 years' experience with the airline -- but both had worked overtime in the two weeks prior to the incident because of a shortage of maintenance workers, according to the report. It says the 41-year-old had worked four 12-hour day shifts and eight 12-hour night shifts during the previous 14 days and the 53-year-old had worked four 12-hour day shifts and six 12-hour night shifts during the previous 14 days.

According to the report, the technicians' error began when they tried to service the engines of this aircraft on May 23 but mistakenly checked a different parked aircraft at Heathrow. It says the unlatched condition of the fan cowl doors was not identified prior to the aircraft's departure the next morning. Several organizational factors contributed to the maintenance error, and British Airways has taken action to address those issues, according to AAIB.

But the report also says this event and numerous other, similar events show that Airbus A320-family aircraft have a history of departing with the fan cowl doors unlatched. "It is also evident that, in practice, the flight crew walk-around inspection is not entirely effective in detecting unlatched fan cowl doors and therefore a design solution is necessary. Enhanced methods of detection through design solutions are being considered by the aircraft manufacturer."

The report contains five safety recommendations that concern fatigue risk management, fan cowl door position warnings, fan cowl door certification requirements, in-flight damage assessments by cabin crew, and aircraft evacuation procedures.

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