Cathay Pacific

New Airbus jet spins off runway

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 12:00am

Embarrassing debut for Air Hong Kong freighter may have been down to an idling engine

A training captain and the pilot he was supervising have been grounded after a newly delivered Air Hong Kong freighter aircraft spun off the runway during takeoff from Bangkok.

The Airbus A300-600F, delivered in September to a VIP reception at Chek Lap Kok, is the first of six aircraft carrying the new Air Hong Kong and DHL livery and the first Airbus freighter of its kind to go into service worldwide.

In the incident on October 2, the jet ended up on the grass on the side of the runway. It was towed back to the terminal and taken out of service for 24 hours for checks.

A newly hired pilot at the controls and the training pilot supervising him have been removed from flying duties, normal practice in such circumstances, while an investigation is conducted by Air Hong Kong.

Industry insiders said the plane may have ended up on the grass because its left engine had been warmed up while the right was left idle before takeoff, resulting in far more thrust from one engine than the other when the pilot applied maximum power.

The embarrassing incident comes less than a month after executives from Cathay Pacific and DHL, who hold 60 per cent and 40 per cent stakes in Air Hong Kong respectively, posed for pictures beside the Airbus after it was delivered from France on September 9.

Bearing a striking mustard and white livery, the aircraft went into service on September 12, operating a freighter service between Hong Kong, Penang and Bangkok. Its arrival is the first step towards a major fleet expansion which will see five more A300-600F jets delivered by the middle of next year.

A spokeswoman for Air Hong Kong said: 'The aircraft veered off ... the runway shortly after commencing take-off procedures. It was then towed to the airport hangar area for inspection.

'The Department of Aviation in Thailand carried out a routine investigation and subsequently released the aircraft for commercial services. Air Hong Kong also reported the incident to the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department and will keep the department informed of the result of its own internal investigation.'

After the plane was found to be undamaged, a different crew flew it to Penang the following night to catch up with its triangular Hong Kong-Penang-Bangkok flying schedule.

The spokeswoman confirmed the flight was a training flight but denied the pilot was inexperienced. 'He is experienced on many other big jets, including the Boeing 747, 777 and 737, but he was relatively new to the A300, which is why it was designated a training flight. The pilot was being supervised by a training captain.'

She declined to comment on the possible causes for the incident.

One London-based pilot said: 'It may have been that the pilot used one engine to manoeuvre the plane into position before being given the order to expedite takeoff.

'In general, aircraft engines wind up quite slowly from idle but once you get to 50 per cent power they wind up pretty quickly.

'For that reason, pilots are normally advised not to use the engine on one side and leave the other one idle during ground manoeuvres. In this case it may have been that the right-hand engine had been left idle when the pilot put the plane to maximum thrust.'

He added that grounding of the two pilots was standard practice. 'It's not a punishment,' he said. 'There are good reasons for keeping people on the ground, firstly because investigators want to see if they need retraining in any way.

'Secondly, they will have what happened preying on their minds so they may not be in a fit state to fly. And thirdly, it also means they are available for investigators if they are needed.'

Air Hong Kong has conducted an Asia-wide recruitment campaign for pilots to work on its rapidly expanding fleet.