Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jetstar A320 incident: Substantial loss of power in one engine during climb

by B. N. Sullivan

JetstarOn the evening of Mar. 15, 2010 an Airbus A320-232 aircraft (registration VH-VQO) operated by Australian airline Jetstar experienced a "substantial loss of power" in one engine shortly after departing Adelaide. The incident happened as Jetstar Flight JQ-670, which was bound for Darwin, was still climbing out. The aircraft returned to Adelaide where it landed safely; no one was injured. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has opened an investigation.

Although several news reports about the incident reported an engine fire (or worse), it is not clear exactly what happened. An initial report on the ATSB Web site classified the event as a "serious incident" and included this descriptive statement:
During the climb passing FL120, the aircraft experienced substantial power loss to the right engine. The crew secured the engine and returned to Adelaide.
A Northern Territory News article about the incident, which bore the blazing headline Wing on fire, emergency landing for Darwin flight, was subsequently quoted and elaborated upon by several other news outlets. The Northern Territory News piece quoted passengers from the flight who said that shortly after the seat belt sign went off they heard a loud bang, the cabin shook, and "Passengers on the right side of the plane were saying a big flame came from the right engine then all the lights on the right wing stopped working."

No mention of a wing on fire, except in the title of the article. In fact, the same article quoted a Jetstar spokesman who denied the plane was on fire, but said, "I can confirm some sparks may have been seen by some passengers."

Um, there's a big difference between "wing on fire" and "some sparks."

Another version of the story comes from the Aviation Herald, which, I should note, usually is a reliable source of information about aircraft accidents and safety incidents. According to the Aviation Herald, the trouble began about 12 minutes into the flight, when...
...a loud bang was heard, the airplane shuddered and streaks of flames were seen out of the right hand engine (V2527). The crew radioed "PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN, Jetstar 670, Jetstar 670, engine fire". The crew shut the right hand engine down and set course back to Adelaide reporting, they did have no engine fire indication however fire was observed from the right hand engine. The fire had been extinguished, [and] a normal standby response for the landing rather than an emergency response was sufficient. The airplane returned to Adelaide for a safe landing on runway 23 about 30 minutes after takeoff. Emergency services reported after roll out, that no fire or smoke was visible. The airplane taxied to the apron with the emergency services in attendance.
Was it a surge? Compressor stall? Something ingested by the engine? Until we hear something further from the ATSB, let's just say the number two engine experienced a loss of power and was shut down, and the crew made an engine-out return to the departure airport for a safe landing. Presumably the passengers' heart rates had returned to normal by the time they continued on to Darwin the next day.