A Cathay Pacific flight heading to Rome was forced to return to Hong Kong after one of its engines failed.
About an hour after leaving Hong Kong at midnight on Tuesday, one of flight CX293's four engines developed problems and the pilot decided to shut it down, Cathay said.
With three engines operating, the Airbus A340-300, with 278 passengers on board, touched down safely at the airport just before 3am yesterday.
The passengers stayed in a hotel and about 260 of them left on another flight in the morning, a spokeswoman said.
An examination showed that the plane's problem was a one-off incident, and other aircraft of the same model did not need to be checked, she said.
'A plane can continue normal operations with two engines,' the spokeswoman said. The plane's return flight on three engines lasted about two hours.
The Airport Authority was alerted at 2.15am about the flight's return, the spokeswoman said.
Former director of civil aviation Peter Lok Kung-nam said what happened on the plane was far from dangerous. 'The power that is generated by all four engines very much exceeds the minimum required.
'Even when there is only one engine working, a plane can continue to fly,' he said. A Boeing 747 flying from Singapore landed safely after three of its four engines were shut down by volcanic ash over a decade ago, he recalled.
The Airbus A340-300 is a variant of the long-range, wide-body A340 model that was launched in 1987.
More than 230 of them were produced by 2003 and adopted by about 50 airlines including Cathay, China Airlines, Air France and Air Canada.
In April this year, a Cathay Pacific flight of the same model failed to retract its undercarriage after taking off from Chek Lap Kok.
It returned briefly to Hong Kong, then took off again and reached its destination, Johannesburg, two hours behind schedule.
A Cathay Pacific plane and a Dragonair jet carrying more than 600 passengers and crew had to take evasive action when they strayed into each other's flight paths last month.
Traffic collision avoidance alarms sounded as the two came within 2,000 metres of each other as they flew into Hong Kong.
In May, a Cathay Airbus A300-300 with 136 passengers on board was forced to make an emergency landing in Singapore after a stalled engine caught fire.