Research Paper: British Airways Flight

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[. . .] 3) The aircraft was cleared to Jakarta Airport where the weather was fine with calm wind and good visibility." (Moody, 1986, p.3) The only reported complication was that the "glide path information was not available for Runway 24." (Moody, Moody, 1986, p.3) It is reported that the crew had difficulty in picking up lights on the group on runway 24 and the runway was finally seen to the right of the aircraft out of the co-pilot's side-window. When the aircraft was lined up with the runway lights they disappeared again and the realization of the drew was that the windows "were almost opaque." (Moody, 1986, p.4)

The final descent to touchdown is reported as having been made "using the localizer, to stay on the centerline and by peering out the outer edge of the left hand front window, which was still clear." (Moody, 1986, p.4) Moody is reported to have been able to make out the lights of the VASIs on the runway left side with the other two crew members calling out the radio altitude and EME distance which assisted in judging the descent. The front windows of the plane glared with light at they approached the runway, the landing the aircraft made was smooth, and it is reported, "cheers and clapping broke out from the passengers." (Moody, 1986, p.4)

III. Accident Report

It took two days for the crew to receive the report on the aircraft's problem and it is stated that the aircraft had "an encounter with volcanic ash" and that the aircraft had flown into a dust cloud from a volcanic eruption from Mount Gallunggung which is positioned about 110 miles south east of Jakarta." (Moody, 1986, p.4) The plume of ash is reported to have become visible on satellite weather photographs following the event. The worst affected part of the aircraft was the engines as the turbine blades were highly damaged and the tips of the blades "were ground away where they were blasted by the ash at a high speed. The material of the ash was mostly silicate particles with a mean diameter of .075 mm." (Moody, 1986, p.4) The high speed parts of the engine were worn away and the "silicacious refractory material singed in contact with the hot metal fusing itself to the blades." (Moody, ) Moody reports that this is what happens inside steel furnaces. The changes in blade shape and size had serious effects on the efficiency of the engines with the number 5 engine which ran down first being the engine with the least damage. Additionally ash was reported to be found in the pilot tubes causing the differences in reading on airspeeds.

ICAO had issued a special report in October 1984 on the dangers of volcanic ash to aircraft and in this report; it noted the incident of June 24, 1982. The report stated, "prevention was better than cure" but made the suggestion that "any pilot who encountered such a problem should, altitude permitting, reduce thrust zero, descend and leave the area as soon as possible. Consideration should be given to turning off engines and restarting them when clear of the ash and insight the relight envelope of the aircraft." (Moody, 1986, p.4)

IV. Lessons from the Crew

The crew on British Airways Flight 009 "exhibited a quality which is described, best, by a word that is much loved by football managers, and the word is 'bottle'. This described a sort of courage which is not of the gung-hot variety, but the sort which causes someone to persist in an enthusiastic and inspiring manner when the odds for success look slim." (Moody, 1986, p.4) The reasons stated for the success of the crew on British Airways flight 009 are stated as follows:

(1) One pilot ensure that while check-lists were being completed, the aircraft altitude and speed were monitored;

(2) the emergency was managed in a rational and safe manner;

(3) the emergency checklists were fully utilized;

(4) they continued to restart the engines even though for 13 minutes there was no visible reward for their efforts;

(4) they used to auto-pilot to reduce work load so that, at least, one member of the crew could detach myself from the check-list and try to reason his way to a solution;

(6) where necessary, they made bold decisions, trying to start No. 4 engine and refusing to climb back into the cloud of ash; and (7) they made full use of each crew member, aircraft system and landing aid, to insure a safe landing. (Moody, 1986, p.4)

Moody reports that this was "an exercise in crisis management, the sort of thing which NATO spends much time studying." (1986, p.4)

V. Reflections of the Pilot Following the Incident

It is reported that any time a Captain of an aircraft finds himself in a situation that is so extreme that it is his responsibility to make sure that at any time the aspect of the problem is clearly identified that attempts are made to find a solution. The captain must be able to delegate responsibilities and to have a clear mind and be able to prioritize the problems at hand based on importance and immediacy of the problems presented. The priorities are such that will change as the time moves on requiring that the pilot be sure to guard against 'tunnel vision'. Moody reports that this aspect of aviation is not widely studied although there were five occasions in that same time in which multi-engined aircraft lost all engine power.

VI. Analysis of the Incident

The flight crew remained calm and level-headed during the incident and prioritized tasks according to immediacy and importance. In addition, all checklists were followed and all personal protective equipment (PPE) were utilized properly. As noted the flight crew used all aircraft systems during the incident and the crew members were all utilized to the fullest allowing one crew member at all times to be free to problem-solve creatively towards a resolution of the incident. The incident has changed the aircraft industry in that it is better understood since British Airways flight 009 what can result from aircraft engines taking in volcanic ash. The difficulty for regulators and the aerospace industry however is reproved to be attempting to "predict what an exact safe level of ash concentration is" for aircraft to fly though. (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 2010, p.4) It is reported that for many, "including the Dutch Pilots Union…100% safety in the air does not exist, and therefore past experience and the gathering of data are our only guides when trying to make informed decisions in the future." (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 2010, p.4)

It is recommended by the Institution of Mechanic Engineers that "the regulatory authorities continue to collect field data by test flying airplanes through volcanic eruptions around the globe. The aim would be to measure as far as technology will allow, the density and particle size distribution and conjunction with any effect they may have had by inspecting the airplane and its engines afterwards." (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 2010, p.4)

Summary and Conclusion

If not for the level-headed thinking and the proper procedural prescription to handling the situation that occurred on the 24th of June 1982 on British Airways Flight 009 by the captain and flight crew and engineers, there would have been 247 passengers and 15 crew member lives that were lost. The crew had no previous experience with handling this type situation arising from engine exposure to volcanic ash and dust however, the rational choices made by the captain in combination with running of checklists and risk mitigation and sheer persistence in attempting to start the planes' engines resulted in a successful and safe landing of the aircraft. While the oxygen mask of the co-pilot fell to pieces in his hands, the co-pilot remained calm and pieced the oxygen mask back together. Decisions were made upon the basis of the checklists and upon the basis of intuition of the captain and flight engineer. Since that time the study of the effect of volcanic ash and dust to aircraft engines has become a priority and studies in this area are still ongoing in the attempt to understand the dangers so that the dangers can be mitigated against to ensure safe aircraft flight under these conditions.


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APA Format

British Airways Flight.  (2012, April 30).  Retrieved August 26, 2019, from

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"British Airways Flight."  30 April 2012.  Web.  26 August 2019. <>.

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"British Airways Flight."  April 30, 2012.  Accessed August 26, 2019.