Brent Hannon/TAIPEI Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

The crash on 22 August of a China Airlines (CAL)Boeing MD-11 at Hong Kong International Airport has placed both the airline and the airport authority on the defensive.

In a bad week for Asia-Pacific air safety, the crash was followed days later by a China Southern Airlines Boeing 737-300 skidding off the runway in Guangdong province, and a severe cabin fire which injured 28 people aboard a UNI Airways Boeing MD-90 after landing at Hualien, Taiwan.

Two passengers were killed and six people were seriously injured when the CAL MD-11 (B-150) rolled onto its back in flames after the starboard wingtip touched the ground on landing at Chek Lap Kok airport, during a tropical storm. The aircraft was carrying 300 passengers and 15 crew.

The accident has raised fresh doubts over CAL's safety record, as well as the safety of Chek Lap Kok airport, which is reputed to be prone to windshear. CAL has suffered four hull losses since 1993, and has a long-running safety improvement programme in partnership with Lufthansa Technik.

This accident, involving an Italian captain, will not raise the traditional issues of Asian cockpit culture which have been highlighted by other incidents involving Asia-Pacific carriers. Government-owned CAL admits it will have an impact on its plans to sell a 35% stake, as well as on ticket sales. CAL's share price dropped sharply following the accident.

According to CAL, flight CI 642 was en route from Bangkok to Taipei, and scheduled to stop in Hong Kong. The airline says the aircraft had sufficient fuel to reach its primary diversion airport at Kaohsiung, but the crew decided to attempt its scheduled landing, apparently believing that crosswinds on the runway were at 23kt (42km/h), below the acceptable 24kt threshold set by CAL for landing on a wet runway.

Taiwanese Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) deputy director Chang Kuo-Cheng says, however, that early findings show crosswinds were 26kt. The airline has now reduced its crosswind limit to 20kt. The CAA investigation is focusing on the information that first officer Liu Cheng-Hsi gave to Capt Gerardo Lettich and information provided by the Hong Kong control tower. Pilots with CAL and other airlines say Chek Lap Kok - adjacent to 1,000m (3,280ft) peaks - is prone to windshear.

The CAA has also begun investigating the UNI Airways cabin fire which reportedly broke out at 12.40 local time in an overhead locker while the aircraft was taxiing after completing a flight from Taipei. The crew report hearing a possible explosion in the locker before the fire broke out.

Source: Flight International