Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dramatic emergency landing by Cathay Pacific A330 at Hong Kong

by B. N. Sullivan

Cathay Pacific AirwaysA Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300 (registration B-HLL) made a dramatic high-speed emergency landing at Hong Kong International Airport on April 13, 2010 after both of its engines malfunctioned during approach. The aircraft, operating as Cathay Flight CX780 from Surabaya, Indonesia, touched down on Hong Kong's runway 07L at a speed of 230+ knots, and six tires deflated due to heat from the high energy braking that was required. All 309 passengers and 14 crew members evacuated the aircraft on the runway via emergency slides. A number of passengers suffered minor injuries in the evacuation.

Early media reports from the scene suggested that both of the aircraft's engines had failed or been shut down during approach -- one shut down while the aircraft was some distance from the airport, and the other during short final -- and that neither engine was functioning at the time the aircraft landed. Cathay Pacific claims this was not the case, stating that while the number one engine had indeed been shut down, the number two engine was functioning. The airline also confirmed that all four tires on the left main gear and two on the right had deflated.

Later it emerged that both of the Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines had become frozen at 70% of N1 speed. Subsequently, one engine was shut down, while the other was left operating at that speed for the landing. Cathay Pacific gave this account of a press briefing by Dennis Hui, Manager of Maintenance Support at the airline’s Engineering Department, on April 14, 2010:
He said that after further investigation of the flight data from CX780 and having interviewed the crew, updated information had shown a clear picture of this aspect of the incident.

He said it had been determined that the number 2 (RH) engine was at idle power throughout the approach and landing at HKIA, and the Number 1(LH) engine was operating at 70 per cent of its maximum power, and frozen at that level.

Mr. Hui said: “This is a higher power setting than is required for a normal approach with a single operating engine. Consequently, this higher than normal power setting led to a higher than normal approach speed and incorrect flap configuration.

“The aircraft therefore touched down at approx 230 knots, as against a normal 135 knots at this aircraft’s operating weight.

“However, the aircraft touched down on the correct position on the runway, but due to its high speed had to brake hard and use reverse thrust from the operating engine to bring the aircraft to a halt.

“The high speed and high energy braking led to very hot brakes, tyre deflation and the report from the FSD outside the aircraft that it had observed flames and smoke on the landing gear,” he added.

Mr. Hui said details of what happened and what caused the engine malfunction are now the subject of CAD [Civil Aviation Department] investigations. Cathay Pacific was co-operating closely with the investigation, along with Airbus and Rolls Royce, the engine supplier.
At the same press briefing, Quince Chong, Cathay's Director Corporate Affairs, praised the crew of Flight CX780, saying, “The pilots and the 11 cabin crew all demonstrated professionalism of a highest order in handling a most testing situation. It was due to their training, professionalism, their judgment, and ability to perform multi-tasks under a highly intense situation that the injuries had been kept to a minimum.”

Ms. Chong mentioned that the evacuation had been accomplished in two minutes.

UPDATE Apr. 15, 2010: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Cathay Pacific has stopped refueling its planes in Surabaya "as a precaution," suggesting that fuel quality is being looked at as a possible cause of the dual engine malfunction. For the time being, Cathay flights will instead make a refueling stop at Jakarta.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department has taken fuel samples from the Airbus A330 for tests, and also has retrieved the aircraft's flight data recorders for analysis.