Sunday, February 01, 2015

Engine fault that stranded Thomson tourists found in eight other planes: A problem in a Boeing 787 engine worried the regulator

A technical failure on a Thomson Airways Boeing 787 that left British holidaymakers stranded in Mexico has been found in eight other engines manufactured by the US conglomerate General Electric.

The problem, which involved the fuel nozzles moving out of alignment, occurred on the ground in Cancun in August.

As a result of the fault the engine would not start as the plane was due to take off, delaying a Thomson flight to Glasgow by a day. Thomson had to find accommodation and provide meals for the tourists before they could return them home, as well as issue an embarrassing apology.

Executives at the Civil Aviation Authority, which is the British regulator, were concerned that this was an “unusual incident”, and questioned whether engine manufacturers were managing their risks properly.

GE undertook an investigation and recently told the CAA that there had been eight similar issues in other engines worldwide. None of these involved British airlines, but the US giant had to make technical changes to ensure that other engines did not suffer such technical difficulties.

The problem also came at a bad time for Thomson, as it occurred only weeks after a flight from the Dominican Republic to Manchester had to make an emergency landing at a military airport in the middle of the Atlantic.

This was a more serious issue, as the plane’s right engine had to be shut down mid-flight. At one stage, the aircraft dropped by 500ft a minute so that the captain could fly at a safer, lower altitude before reaching the Azores, and 288 passengers were ultimately delayed by more than 11 hours.

A GE Aviation spokesman said of the Cancun incident: “GE has moved aggressively to determine the cause. GE and Boeing have developed an engine control software modification that will sharply reduce potential acoustic resonance (vibration) within the combustor that could lead to the alignment shift. The new software modifies the engine’s fuel flow characteristics to reduce the acoustic resonance level. The inspection program has been highly successful … . The company does not believe this is a safety or air worthiness issue for airline operators.”

A spokesman for the CAA said that GE and Thomson had “identified the cause and addressed the issue”.


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