USA/UK fail to agree new engine-out rules

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The US and UK airworthiness authorities have reached an impasse over efforts to agree changes to recommended procedures, nearly two years after British Airways raised the ire of the US Federal Aviation Administration by flying a Boeing 747-400 from Los Angeles to Manchester with one engine shut down from just after take-off.

The FAA dropped its "enforcement" court case against BA, in which it accused the airline of operating an aircraft in an unairworthy condition, just before it was due to be heard by an administrative law judge. The US agency said it dropped the case because BA had "changed its procedures", but BA says its procedures for 747s with an engine shut down have not changed.

In its report on the 20 February 2005 incident - published in June 2006 - the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch recommended that the FAA and the UK Civil Aviation Authority "review the policy on flight continuation for public transport aircraft following an in-flight shutdown of an engine, to provide clear guidance to operators". This has not been achieved, so the status of the issue between the two regulators is more like a ceasefire than a peace treaty.

The FAA said it dropped the case because "BA and the CAA have raised legal arguments regarding the enforceability of US airworthiness standards under international law against an aircraft registered in a foreign jurisdiction. We have considered these arguments and conclude that, under these circumstances, the FAA will recognise the CAA's determination that the aircraft was not unairworthy."

What will people think?

BA concedes that the adverse publicity over the February 2005 incident has caused it to add one more consideration to the operational factors that the crew and the airline take into account when making a decision to proceed or divert: the potential passenger and public perception of a shutdown under the precise circumstances at the time of any future incident. The airline's head of safety and security Tim Steeds says the Los Angeles-Manchester crew might today, under identical circumstances and having discussed the situation with the operations department, decide to divert to a suitable airport within North America close to their flight-planned route. But the crew would not have dumped fuel and returned to Los Angeles, says Steed, and if the aircraft commander were to elect to proceed to the destination, the company would leave the decision with them.