British Airways (BA) has been criticised for having a culture that led some mechanics to cover up mistakes instead of reporting them.

The just-published Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) final report is about a BA Boeing 777-200 that spewed fuel from an uncovered fuel tank aperture inside the left main gear wheel-well as it took off from London Heathrow airport bound for Harare, Zimbabwe on 10 June 2004.

Immediately after the 777’s take-off, another aircraft at the runway holding point reported a trail of smoke from the rear of the departing aircraft and a smell of fuel vapour.

BA fuel leak

The mistake that caused the incident occurred during a “C-check” at BA’s Cardiff, Wales heavy maintenance site when the 777’s centre-wing fuel tank was being checked internally.

During this process, a “purge door” - the cover for an aperture about 5cm in diameter - had been removed from the fuel tank wall which faces into the wheel-well and was not replaced. The BA crew elected to dump fuel and return. There were no injuries to the 15 crew and 151 passengers.

The AAIB made four recommendations for improving the internal reporting procedures within BA maintenance, and required the airline to safety-audit the Cardiff plant. BA says the changes have all been implemented.