Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Tests support BA crash ice theory

British Airways Boeing 777 plane lies at the foot of the Southern runway after its crash landing
Everyone on board the plane escaped without serious injury

Official tests have proved that a build-up of ice in the engine could have caused a British Airways plane to crash-land at Heathrow.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has now asked aviation regulators to look at solutions to the problem.

But the AAIB said it was "a major scientific challenge" and simply using an anti-icing fuel additive more widely has many "drawbacks".

The Boeing 777, with 152 people on board, crashed in January 2008.

In its first interim report into the accident last September, the AAIB suggested that ice was the most likely cause.

Now it has carried out detailed tests to determine just how such a situation could have arisen.

Blockage

The second interim report, released on Thursday, said that during the flight, from Beijing, ice may have developed in the fuel pipes.

Then shortly before landing, due to factors such as turbulence or engine acceleration, a large amount of ice may have been dislodged and suddenly released into the fuel system, causing a blockage.

As a result, the flow of fuel to the engines was greatly reduced, leaving them without sufficient power less than a minute before touchdown.

This is clearly a major scientific challenge, possibly taking several years to complete
Air Accidents Investigation Branch report

The plane eventually came down just beyond the airport's perimeter fence.

Its captain Peter Burkill and co-pilot John Coward were hailed as heroes for their part in landing it without any loss of life or serious injury.

The report said: "Ice in aviation turbine fuel is an industry-wide problem and currently the mechanism by which it accumulates and is released within an aircraft and engine fuel system is not fully understood.

"The military, and some business jet operators, have used anti-icing additives in aviation turbine fuel.

"The widespread use of such additives would reduce the risk from ice in fuel. However, its introduction worldwide would not only require changes to the infrastructure and ground fuel handling systems, but it could also lead to increased aircraft maintenance."

The AAIB said aircraft manufacturer Rolls-Royce had already announced it had developed a modification to the fuel system that would allow it to cope better "in the event of a fuel system ice release event".

But investigators called on the entire industry to do more to explore the potential role of anti-ice additives and the problem of ice formation generally.

It added: "This is clearly a major scientific challenge, possibly taking several years to complete, so the regulatory authorities are urged to jointly initiate such research."



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