British Airways appeals FAA fine over 2005 Boeing 747 engine shutdown 'safety breach'

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Airline says no regulation was broken in 747 incident

An appeal by British Airways against a US Federal Aviation Administration fine for “operating an aircraft in the USA in an unairworthy condition” will be heard by an administrative law judge in New York on 16 May.

The charge sheet

The FAA charges that BA “operated the... aircraft with only three operating engines, bypassing numerous suitable alternative airfields in the USA and Canada before proceeding across the North Atlantic Ocean. By reason of the above, BA operated an aircraft in the USA in an unairworthy condition.” The FAA’s rules state: “If not more than one engine of an airplane that has three or more engines [fails or is shut down] the pilot in command may proceed to an airport he selects if, after considering the following, he decides that proceeding to that airport is as safe as landing at the nearest suitable airport.”

The list of considerations includes the nature of the engine malfunction plus any other malfunction, altitude, weight, usable fuel, weather conditions in the air and at potential diversions, air traffic congestion, terrain, and the crew’s familiarity with the airport to be used.

BA says that the crew, aided by the airline’s operations and engineering departments with which they communicated by satellite, took all these issues into account in their decision.

The FAA imposed the $25,000 fine – the maximum allowed – because of an incident on 19 February 2005 when a BA Boeing 747-400 crew shut down the No 2 engine after a surge following take-off from Los Angeles, but elected to continue the flight to the UK.

At issue is whether the BA flight was operating under UK Civil Aviation Authority or FAA rules. “We disagree strongly with the FAA that any US regulation was violated and will contest the proposed civil penalty,” says BA.

The flight eventually made an emergency diversion to the UK’s Manchester airport because the crew believed they did not have enough usable fuel to continue to London Heathrow, the planned destination. Subsequent investigation found that the remaining usable fuel would have been sufficient, and BA crew training on fuel management in non-standard situations has been modified.

The CAA says it is inappropriate to comment with litigation pending. But since the event – still being examined by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch – the CAA has said it does not believe the airline has broken any regulations or recommended procedures.

DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON

Read our comment on why British Airways is right to challenge the legality of the FAA fine, because the regulations need clarification