Runway incident could have been catastrophic, report finds

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A serious incident at a Belfast airport in July last year could have been “catastrophic”, according to a report.

On July 21 2017, a plane destined for Corfu failed to accelerate at the necessary speed and struck an approach light at the end of a runway.

The Canadian Boeing 737, owned by Sunwing Airlines, was taking off from Belfast International Airport taking holidaymakers to Greece at around 3.45pm.

The report states that an outside air temperature of -52C was mistakenly entered into the Flight Management Computer by a member of the aircraft crew, instead of the actual temperature of 16C.

The plane then took off from the airport with “insufficient power to meet regulated performance requirements” and struck the light.

The error meant the assumed temperate thrust only delivered 60% of the thrust required for take-off.

The report also states that the crew did not recognise the issue until they reached the end of the runway.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) only became aware of the serious incident on July 24 2017 after the Transportation Safety Board in Canada informed the office.

The aircraft operator, tour operator or aircraft commander did not tell the AAIB about the incident, despite having a legal duty to do so.

An investigation found there were no injuries and no damage to the aircraft which continued its flight to Corfu without incident but the report adds that this was only because of a lack of obstacles in the flight path.

“It was only the benign nature of the runway clearway and lack of obstacles in the climb-out path which allowed the aircraft to climb away without further collision after it struck the runway light.

“Had an engine failed at a critical moment during take-off, the consequences could have been catastrophic,” the report said.

The 38-year-old pilot and 45-year-old co-pilot, who have over 12,000 hours of flight experience between them, had twice flown together before and both said they had felt rested before the flight.

The investigation also found that the aircraft’s computer did not have the capability to alert the crew to the fact that the outside temperature was incorrect.

This capability does now exist in new software.

It also adds that the crew “were unlikely to detect any abnormality because of normal limitations in human performance”.

A spokeswoman from Tui, who were the tour operator of the flight, said: “We are aware of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch’s (AAIB) final report with relation to the July 2017 incident at Belfast International Airport and can confirm that the carrier is in agreement with the findings and has already implemented the recommended actions.

“We would like to reassure Falcon and First Choice customers that their health and safety is of paramount importance to us.”

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