The British Airways Flight 268 incident occurred on February 20, 2005, and involved the flight’s engine being caught in flames shortly after they have left the airport in Los Angeles. The fire was, reportedly, caused by an engine surge, almost immediately after takeoff, with flames visibly coming from it. The crew shut down the engine and continued to fly with three other engines left, finishing its flight across the Atlantic Ocean and landing in Manchester instead of London, citing fuel shortage as the reason. The incident was viewed as controversial because of the crew’s decision to fly so far without landing at a nearby airport, potentially endangering themselves and the passengers. British Airways managed to avoid the persecution of flying an unairworthy aircraft by citing British laws as well as the plane’s specifications.
The crew’s rationalization came primarily from two motivators. First, they did not wish to dump 70 tons of fuel near the city, and second, the operational instructions for the Boeing 747-400 stated that the plane can operate with three engines only. The captain rationalized that they would have enough fuel to reach their original destination but then decided to land in Manchester due to being worried about not having enough fuel to finish the trip. It is stated that prior to the decision being made the pilots consulted with the airline dispatcher, meaning that their input had an influence on the decision-making process.
I believe that the Captain should have been charged by the FAA rather than dropping the case based on the assurances that such accidents would never happen again, and other platitudes of a similar kind. First, it must be understood that Boeing 747-400, while fully capable of flying with three engines only, is capable of such a performance as a precautionary safety against incidents just like the one that had occurred. It was intended as an emergency mode rather than for standard operations. In an event of one engine failure, the plane is enabled to reach the nearest airport without stressing out the system and endangering the lives of those on board.
However, flying without such an extra safety is a great risk, because of the potential event of another engine failing due to circumstances outside of operations and maintenance. The plane could have hit a flock of birds or encountered atmospheric turbulences that could have affected the flight, or suffered another malfunction and crashed into the ocean. The report states that Flight 268’s trip across the Atlantic was not easy, encountering unfavorable conditions that facilitated the use of extra fuel. The risk taken by the Captain was great and unnecessary.
The case study states that the accident happened almost immediately after leaving the Los Angeles airport and that flight control was ready to cancel the trip and allow the plane to land in some of the nearest airports. This did not happen, as instead the company and the Captain took it upon themselves to finish the flight without there being any reasonable necessity for it – the dumping of fuel was not enough of a concern to endanger 370 lives on board. The fact that British Airways Flight 268 did not end up being one of the greatest tragedies in the company’s history was a result of pure luck rather than a calculated risk facilitated by necessity.