British Airways 777 Accident at Heathrow Linked to Delta Incident

We all remember the BA 777 that lost power and crash-landed at London/Heathrow, right? Last September, an interim report was put out on the accident saying that ice buildup blocking the fuel flow was the likely culprit. Now Boeing is not only agreeing with that conclusion, but it is saying that it caused another 777 incident on a Delta aircraft. According to Boeing, the problem is only occurring with Rolls-Royce powered aircraft.

I’ll try not to get too deep into the weeds here, but there’s a place in the engine where fuel passes in tubes right next to engine oil. The hot oil warms the cold fuel and the fuel cools the oil so everything is in good shape. Apparently, the Rolls-Royce engines are not always able to adequately heat the fuel if it’s too cold, so ice has formed and blocked the fuel flow temporarily. In the BA accident, it was so close to the ground that there was no hope of recovery. In the Delta incident, the plane was cruising, so they were able to restart it without any serious issues.

It’s odd to see this report come out before the investigations are finished, but Boeing must have seen something that it really thinks needs to be fixed. The chance that this could cause another accident is slim, especially now that they’ve recommended some operational changes (like, fly lower where it’s warmer if necessary) that will help avoid the problem. But if you’re nervous about flying with a Rolls-Royce engine on the 777, let me try to put your mind at ease. Here is the breakdown of which airlines do not fly Rolls-Royce powered 777s. (This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it should cover the biggest operators.)

Non Rolls-Royce Powered 777s

  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • ANA
  • Continental
  • JAL
  • United

Air New Zealand (777-200s), American, British Airways (some), Cathay Pacific, Delta (all but the Long Range aircraft), and Singapore are just a few examples of airlines that fly Rolls-Royce engines on their 777 fleet. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly on any of these planes right now, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to give a little peace of mind for those who feel a little nervous.


23 Responses to British Airways 777 Accident at Heathrow Linked to Delta Incident

  1. A says:

    Isn’t the 777, and now the A380, the only commerical aircraft flying without one hull loss accident? Or does the BA incident count as one? Either way, the 777 has one of the best safety records in the sky. I think that fact is more relevant than which operators aren’t using Rolls Royce jet engines.

  2. CF says:

    The 777 has yet to have a fatal accident. I’m not sure if the BA aircraft was a hull loss or not, but nobody died. So yes, it has proven to be an extremely safe airplane.

  3. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Hard to imagine any airline wanting to fly lower where optimal cruise efficiencies are at higher altitudes.

    Is perhaps one of the changes simply repositioning the fuel lines a little closer to the oil heat source?

  4. CF says:

    Optimist – These are temporary measures. They only need to fly lower if they’ve been below a certain temperature for an extended period of time. This is extremely rare. Ultimately yes, there will be a physical change that will eliminate the problem, but that still has to be worked out.

  5. Peter Harris says:

    The early release of the interim report in September appears to have been a very positive move. Air NZ announced back then that they would take immediate action to address the problem.

    I’m flying an NZ 777 on Wednesday from AKL to LAX and have no concerns…its a beautiful aircraft!…But then I always feel safer on a Boeing!!

  6. Flying Blue says:

    quote “The 777 has yet to have a fatal accident. I’m not sure if the BA aircraft was a hull loss or not, but nobody died. So yes, it has proven to be an extremely safe airplane.”

    So yes, let’s wait for a serious accident to act upon…

    I can’t believe what i read here.. i will still fly any 777 with or without a RR engine, but i think is not serious to say.. let’s forget about it, was just unlucky..: the plane is still there to see in LHR, damaged, scrapped, retired.. whatever you call it it doesn’t fly anymore and maybe never more.. was a machine fault therefore fully investigation seems necessary..

    Peter Harris “But then I always feel safer on a Boeing!!” i agree with you, i feel safer in a Boeing too, is like feel more robust.. even when on an old 737-3/400, old but you think millions of flight have passed and they must know what they have built, however, i think comparing planes by class, specially modern ones, Airbus are performing much better in terms of safety.. think about Toronto A340, the air transat glider 330 and the amphibious a320 that sully delivered in NY “river”.. maybe better think again.. an old 737 or 747, is still an old plane, Airbus luckily has been around for less time so they have newer machines..

  7. CF says:

    Take a step back, Flying Blue. I think you’ve misinterpreted comments here. Operational changes have already been made to prevent this from happening again in the short term, and undoubtedly there will be physical changes recommended when the investigation is complete. That is hardly sitting around and waiting for something else to happen.

  8. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Flying Blue – I, too, am starting to view Airbus as a maker of solid equipment. Boeings has the edge and rock solid but clearly Airbus equipment in the hands of good pilots and well trained cabin crews are allowing people to literally escape with their very lives.

    Iberia’s A340-600 run-off in Quito.
    Air Transat’s A330 glider, as you mentioned.
    Lufthansa’s A320 cross-winder WITH a wing strike, even.
    Air France’s A340 at Toronto will live as a true miracle.
    American’s A300-600 inaugural diversion to Bermuda (fuel)
    Jet Blue’s A320 nose gear malfunction at LAX.

    The list of survivable incidents is getting longer which is good for their workmanship reputation. I’ve flown Cathay Pacific’s A340s twice to Hong Kong and enjoyed the service but I’d still go to a Boeing in a heartbeat if there was a choice.

    Someone please let me know or remind me if a commercial Boeing was ever lost specifically because of an airframe of systems design flaw?

    Comet = Skin cracks around the square windows
    Lockheed = Engine vibrations ripped the wings off the Electras
    Douglas = Cargo door latching mechanism destroyed a DC-10
    Airbus = A320 prototype lost on a demo flight due to computer malfunction (the Air France one that went in to the trees)

  9. CF says:

    Optimist – Do the 737 rudder issues count? (United 737 in Colorado Springs, USAir 737 in Pittsburgh . . .)

  10. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Yup! Still unresolved, I believe. Thanks for reminding me.

  11. Cletis Walkman says:

    Optimist: What about that Aloha flight over Hawaii that blew out a huge chunk of fuselage?

  12. JAMES DERBYSHIRE says:

    no tyhe us air 737 crash was resolved it was due to as a result of a jam of the main rudder power control unit servo valve and that made the planes crash due to it making the 737 go into a rudder hardover

  13. Flying Blue says:

    Yes, i confirm the 737 Parker hannifin servo valve was addressed and ‘fixed’. The reason why i quote fixed, is because, one Adam Air 737/xxx was lost an nobody knows how.. well.. that plane passed by many other hands before going to the defunct Adam Air.. and prove me wrong if i doubt that some servo valve may still be around..
    To mentioning ‘miracles’, i think of the DHL 757 hit by air missile in iraq and managed to land back on heart in one piece with damaged wing+hydraulics.
    Or do we want to speak about the 747 Kalitta at Brux that collapsed on take off ? Aging is something to consider on planes, and there is no maintenance that can save a plane from aging, pieces need to be replaced, more and more checks to do and wires that get cooked…
    This cost bloody good money and some companies are more scrupolous or faster than others in applying reccomendations.

  14. John says:

    Able to restart the Delta that is not the same thing as the BA were both engines would not come off just above idle. Both engines fed from the same fuel line and the same amount of restriction i doubt it. The Prime Minister was at the airport and signal jammers are used with motorcades to jam roadside bombs.
    They had to come up with some kind of fix so this could be it.
    If it was because of the jamming we will never be told that.
    What i found strange is after it happened all the 777’s were not grounded that tells me they knew what it was from the start.

  15. Flying Blue says:

    John, matter of fact BBC today reported the news that there is this risk out there… why today? i don’t really know…
    Why going public today, telling BA has 18 B777 with RR engines?
    RR has decleared that there a need to redesign a component in the fuel department.. and won’t be ready before end of the year (or did they say one year?) well i was not paying too much attention on the delivery date but they clearly said that the fleet doesn’t need to be grounded.. is because they know? is because is not serious? is because grounding the planes gives a bad signal and aviation is seeing declining passengers?
    How this matches with the initial declaration that a second episode is not a good sign and that the matter is now officially a problem that may reoccur anytime…
    If somebody can tell me how this decisions are taken, because i started to get confused now…

  16. CF says:

    Flying Blue – This appears to be in response to the NTSB here in the US requiring Rolls to do a redesign (which should be done within one year). I will have a post on this on Monday.

  17. John says:

    i won’t be felling comfortable if the airlines are flying with Rolls-Royce engines.

  18. It doesn’t matter for me, if it’s Rolls-Royce engine or not. As someone, who’s first flight was with an old Tupolev, I won’t complain about the minimal risk. They made it public, this means, they’re working on solving the problem. In Addition they know now what to do in case of an emergency. Enough for me to prove, that it’s save to fly with this planes. I’m looking forward to my next flight in the summer with a Boing, Rolls-Royce engine or not.

  19. Ali says:

    It is interesting that the solution of flying lower after prolonged periods at height/lower temperatures did not help the BA flight – as they would have been on a steady and reasonably shallow descent to land.

  20. CF says:

    Ali – Actually, the descent likely created the problem. The water that built up in the lines would have started to melt as the plane descended and the air warmed. It’s that melting that probably caused chunks of ice to shift and block the fuel flow, if momentarily.

  21. John says:

    We are dealing with more than one engine. That says oil from each engine warms a fuel line. How can it be that both had the same blockage? I do not buy this as the cause. I am sticking with what i think the cause was. Like i said if i am right they are never going to admit to it.
    How could the Delta restart if the lines were blocked? Did the same thing happen did the Delta pass over a radar beam and and restart when past it? This is true many cars parked near the empire state building in new york city are unable to restart until towed some blocks away.
    What is going on is siginals from all the transmitters on the building jam some cars alarm system and will not allow the cars to start. If you do not know about this do a search so that you will see i am not a nut making this up.

  22. I never did believe that ice was the cause of the BA 777 crash (the fuel was at 5 degrees C) and now the world has seen the presence and strength of Hydrocarbon hydrates in blocking the ‘funnel’/’dome’ in the BP blow-out off Louisiana I remind everybody out there that hydrates are (were) a more likely cause of the fuel system blockage.
    It is important because systems to eliminate ice MAY not eliminate hydrates but if hydrates are prevented then ice cannot form.
    Is there someone out there listening who has the capability of examining hydrates as a reason for the crash?

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