Crash landing at Heathrow

Captain Peter Burkill praised the whole crew saying that everyone “acted heroically. Flying is definitely about teamwork and that is what we all displayed.” Rejecting the adulation given to him, with some calling for a medal ‘as big as frying pan’, he instead gave special credit to his Senior First Officer John Coward who was the flight officer at the time of the crash, saying her did the “the most remarkable job.”

The initial report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) finds the fault to be a mechanical issue with the aeroplane itself. Ruling out pilot error, terrorism, environmental factors or random acts (a wrongly placed flock of geese etc) as unlikely the investigators rather are focussed on the myriad systems that link the engines to the cockpit and how these could have gone wrong. What is known is that both Rolls-Royce 800 series engines failed to respond to a demand for increased thrust on the plane’s approach to land. A second request was made via auto-throttle, and a third by the flight crew, and both failed to gain a response from the engines. At this point it was necessary for Sen. First Officer Coward to manually glide the plane into land. The lack of thrust slowed the plane down considerably meaning it could not reach the metalled runway and had to ditch into the grass verge before it. This also meant that the plane’s final approach was considerably lower than normal for a plane of a 777 size, with one eyewitness saying the plane flew low enough to “lean out of the window and touch it.”

The runway was closed off initially, but was reopened for take offs only later. A total of 221 flights were cancelled, most being short haul, and a special dispensation for increased night flight take offs was granted to help make up the short fall. The other runway remained open throughout. Travel delays hit many operators, including the Prime MinisterÂ’s flight. Gordon Brown was scheduled to fly to China and India and had to be delayed whilst the crash was investigated.

As the worldÂ’s busiest airport and an integral link in the economic well being of Great Britain there a great worries about the impact this crash will have the airportÂ’s future. This incident is the first crash during take off or landing at Heathrow since 1972, but nevertheless will have grave implications on the possible expansion of the airport. The government outlined its support of Heathrow operator BAA in November to increase the number of runways from two to three, and the terminals from five to six, by 2020.

Hillingdon Council, whose remit covers Heathrow, now says this should be rejected as “the high density of population in the vicinity of Heathrow, combined with the increase in the number of aircraft movements that a third runway would allow is predicted to cause a significant increase in safety risk.” Heathrow expansion will also have implications for areas not directly underneath any flight paths. Areas what the Department for Transport (DfT) call public safety zones (PSZs) will be expanded along with the airport, with implications for local residents. In higher risk areas airports are expected to buy out and raze homes and promote residents to move away from the area for their own good. With Royal Holloway just under ten miles away from Heathrow it is surely not outside the realm of possibility that within thirty to fifty years we could see a taxiway extending far enough to make this area one of far increased risk.

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