accident investigators are urging the country’s CAA to take further steps to
reduce the chance of air traffic controllers’ routing crippled aircraft over
densely populated areas during an emergency.
move follows an emergency landing at London Heathrow by a Gemini Air Cargo
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30F after it suffered a serious birdstrike from a heron
in its left-hand General Electric CF6 engine shortly after departing from
Shannon International Airport in Ireland.
routed the aircraft over central London after the crew rejected a suggestion to
divert to RAF Brize Norton following the 1 October 2000 incident.
impact from the bird was so severe that large components from the General
Electric CF6 engine’s nacelle fell off and damaged the inboard aileron and
flap. The crew shut the engine down and informed controllers of its intention
to divert to London or Brussels, having decided that returning to Shannon would
be unwise because of poor weather there.
the exchanges with air traffic control the pilot requested a runway at least
10,000ft (3,050m) in length. While acknowledging that he gave this figure in an
attempt to keep matters simple, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB)
says that the landing distance required was considerably less.
requesting such criteria he reduced considerably the number of possible
airports available,” says the investigators’ report.
it accepts that the pilot should have the final decision on where to divert,
the AAIB states that the crew should have been informed that an approach to
London would mean flying in from the east, taking the damaged aircraft over
traffic control advised the crew that RAF Brize Norton was a potential
alternative diversion to Heathrow,” says the report. “But the information was
provided more in the context of another airfield capable of providing 10,000ft
of runway and suitable weather conditions rather than as an alternate to
prevent overflying built-up areas.
the commander [of the aircraft] nor his crew were familiar with London Heathrow
or the surrounding area. If air traffic control had advised the crew that the
approach to [Heathrow’s] runway 27 would be over densely populated areas the
commander would at least have been aware of the potential hazard and might have
reconsidered his choice of diversion airport.”
AAIB notes that in a similar incident at Los Angeles the previous year, large
parts of an identical engine fell onto a beach after a KLM Boeing 747-300
suffered a birdstrike involving a western gull.
CAA has previously amended its Manual of Air Traffic Services following a May
1993 AAIB recommendation, stating that avoidance of densely-populated areas
should be a primary consideration when routing aircraft in an emergency.
as a result of the incident the AAIB is recommending that the manual’s section
on handling aircraft emergencies should be updated to include instructions
specifically telling controllers to inform pilots during an emergency if an
intended route takes the aircraft over heavily populated regions.