Air­liner’s fuel dump puz­zles avi­a­tion ex­perts

Antelope Valley Press - - NEWS - By JOHN ANTCZAK and BERNARD CONDON

LOS AN­GE­LES — Some avi­a­tion ex­perts said Wed­nes­day that they were puz­zled af­ter the crew of a com­mer­cial air­liner de­cided to dump fuel at low al­ti­tude dur­ing an emer­gency land­ing, caus­ing a va­por to fall on school­yards and neigh­bor­hoods east of Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

“No one is go­ing to dump fuel where these guys did it over pop­u­lated ar­eas and schools. It’s a pretty out­ra­geous thing,” said Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Con­sult­ing Ex­perts and a re­tired United Air­lines pi­lot. “They should have gone over the ocean or landed heavy­weight.”

Delta Air Lines said Flight 89 to Shang­hai had an en­gine problem af­ter take­off Tues­day and needed to quickly re­turn. The Boe­ing 777-200 landed safely af­ter cir­cling back over Los An­ge­les while dump­ing fuel to reach a safe land­ing weight, the air­line said in a state­ment.

Los An­ge­les County fire­fight­ers were called to schools where nearly 60 chil­dren and adults were ex­am­ined for mi­nor skin and lung ir­ri­ta­tions, but none re­quired hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. Fire In­spec­tor Sky Cor­nell also said mon­i­tor­ing showed the va­por wasn’t flammable.

When a plane is forced to turn back af­ter take­off, the weight of a full load of fuel car­ries a risk of dam­ag­ing the jet dur­ing land­ing. That can be costly for air­lines to fix. And even if there isn’t dam­age, air­lines try to avoid over­weight land­ings be­cause they are re­quired to in­spect planes, which puts them out of service.

When turn­ing back with a full fuel load, pi­lots have three choices, ac­cord­ing to John Cox, a safety con­sul­tant and for­mer air­line pi­lot: burn the fuel, which can take hours, dump it or land over­weight.

In case of a fire, he said, pi­lots will dump as much fuel as quickly as they can and land. A less dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion tends to lead to us­ing up or dump­ing fuel.

Ac­cord­ing to recorded ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions, air traf­fic con­trol asked the Delta crew if they wanted to re­turn to LAX im­me­di­ately or linger over the ocean “to hold and burn fuel.”

“We’re go­ing to go ahead,” the pi­lot or co-pi­lot re­sponded. “We’ve got it back un­der con­trol . ... We’re not crit­i­cal.”

“OK, so you don’t need to hold or dump fuel or any­thing like that?” the con­troller asked.

“Ah, neg­a­tive,” was the re­sponse.

But the plane did dump fuel as it headed back.

The Delta crew re­ported a com­pres­sor stall in the en­gine “but they got the en­gine back un­der con­trol ... they were not in an im­me­di­ate threat con­di­tion, and they started out over wa­ter,” Cox said. “Why they con­tin­ued to dump fuel at low al­ti­tude when they weren’t in a fuel-dump­ing area, and didn’t ad­vise ATC (air traf­fic con­trol) that they were dump­ing fuel — those are ques­tions this crew is go­ing to have to an­swer.”


Chil­dren evac­u­ate the Park Av­enue El­e­men­tary school in Cudahy on Tues­day. A com­mer­cial air­liner ap­par­ently dumped fuel at low al­ti­tude over the school af­ter a me­chan­i­cal mal­func­tion, puz­zling avi­a­tion ex­perts.

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