David Learmount/LONDON Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

The UK's Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) is investigating serious safety breaches involving Malaysia Airlines' (MAS) operations into London Heathrow.

The DETR declines to name the airline, but Flight International understands from government and industry sources that on several occasions MAS has landed Boeing 747-400s at the airport with so little fuel that a need to go around would have placed the aircraft in danger of a multiple-engine flame-out.

The latest incident was reported in the April issue of Feedback, the UK's confidential human factors incident reporting (CHIRP) journal. It says an unidentified "foreign-registered four-engined aircraft" landing "at a UK airport" requested a stand closer than the one allocated because it was so low on fuel. The anonymous reporter says the aircraft's engine indicating and crew alerting sytem showed 3,400kg (7,500lb) fuel remaining - insufficient for a safe go-around.

The DETR says that it has been advised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority of the situation and has approached the airline and civil aviation authority concerned to warn them of this serious safety breach. The CAA had learned of the situation when contacted by CHIRP, which protected the reporter.

The DETR can withdraw any airline's rights to operate into the UK. It has not done so in this case, saying it has yet to establish the facts. It emphasises that it is acting "with urgency", however.

This was not the first such incident involving MAS, according to CHIRP. "Further investigation revealed at least 10 other recent instances in which low fuel arrival states had been recorded by the handling agency," says Feedback.

Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are the only airports within the 747-400's range which host frequent flights to Heathrow. Flights from South-East Asia to London sometimes divert to European airports to refuel in the event of strong headwinds during the flight.

MAS executive vice-president corporate sales Abdullah Mat Zaid says: "Malaysia Airlines fuel planning and management practices are almost identical to other large carriers operating to the UK. In some cases, Malaysia Airlines has extra fuel padding to cater for exigencies which is not present in other carriers' fuel policy."

Source: Flight International