Air China

Finding fault

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am

The emergency landing of a Cathay Pacific flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, in Hong Kong last week due to engine failure could have ended in tragedy if it were not for the professionalism of its cockpit and cabin crews. Both the Australian pilots have been hailed as heroes for averting a disaster.

With the benefit of hindsight, some of the media have criticised the pilots for carrying on with the flight, claiming they needlessly risked the safety of more than 300 passengers although they knew of the engine problems shortly after take-off.

Some had misreported that the captain knowingly flew the plane on one engine.

Cathay Pacific has stressed that safety is always its No1 priority. It said that, after further investigation of the flight data from CX780, and having interviewed the crew, it was clear that the incident was handled properly and professionally.

The media and critics shouldn't have been overly judgmental without knowing all the facts.

The most important thing is to find out the cause of the engine problems and prevent a recurrence.

According to industry sources, the engine malfunction could have been triggered by fuel contamination during refuelling in Indonesia. Investigators have to find out whether this was an isolated incident or a widespread problem that might affect other Cathay aircraft or even other airlines.

Many questions need to be addressed such as whether it was a one-off slip-up or something that might have been caused by fundamental operational errors in the refuelling or ground maintenance procedures, or both.

Another point is to assess whether it was a problem with the Indonesian airport or a Cathay maintenance issue.

Without a proper investigation by top professionals, we can only speculate as to what caused the dual engine malfunction. We must therefore get to the bottom of the matter and find out the root cause.

The plane in question was a twin-engine A330-300 Airbus that had been in service for 12 years.

It's true that there were engine problems shortly after take-off, but the pilots immediately informed all relevant parties and Cathay's flight operations centre.

After consulting experts and assessing the situation, the captain concluded that the problem was not serious and continued with the flight to Hong Kong. All this was carried out according to the rules set down by the airline's operations manual.

In fact, at no time was the plane flying on one engine, as suggested by critics. If there had been serious problems with one engine, the captain would have either turned back or landed at the nearest suitable airport.

The facts speak louder than words; the pilots showed good judgment in handling the incident and eventually landed the plane safely. Serious engine malfunctions only became apparent when the plane was 20 to 30 minutes from Hong Kong. Before that, it was an uneventful flight on the whole.

The entire crew demonstrated the highest standards of professionalism and good judgment in handling a most testing situation. And, as a result, only a few passengers suffered minor injuries as they got off the aircraft, which was inevitable given that the emergency evacuation took only two minutes.

What's baffling is that, instead of praising the crew for saving the lives of passengers, some media were more interested in fault-finding.

The matter is now the subject of a Civil Aviation Department investigation. Besides the digital data recorder or 'black box', this plane was also equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and a quick access recorder. CAD officials must make public this readily available data as soon as possible.

Once that's done, I have no doubt that the truth will come out and justice will be done.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator