09 September 2008
Ice in fuel caused Heathrow crash
Rob Fisher

Remember the Boeing 777 that crashed back in January?  Investigators are saying it was probably caused by ice crystals that formed in the fuel.

Investigators said three unique factors came together in flight BA038 that had not been found in 13,000 other flights: the length of time that fuel temperatures stayed below 0C; low fuel flow demands in cruising flight, and high fuel flow demands during landing. They added that the amount of water in the fuel supply - around five litres - was not abnormal.

No matter how carefully aircraft systems are designed, once in a while a combination of events will occur that you hadn’t tested for.  But at least it won’t happen again, and air travel will be just that little bit safer from now on:

Boeing said last night that it had devised “a number of operational changes” to prevent ice building up in 777 fuel systems that used the type of Rolls Royce engine involved in the crash.

Hat tip: The Google News Alert I set up, knowing that the follow-ups to this story probably wouldn’t make the front pages.

Update: Incidentally, in this story there’s a lot of insight into how air crash investigations are done.  13,000 normal flights were compared with this one.  That suggests that black box recordings from many flights are archived, and that statistical and data mining techniques can be used to find out what’s unusual about a given flight.  I wonder if enough computing power and clever enough software could be installed in the cockpit, comparing current data with all previous flights and warning the pilot of anything unusual.


  1. Have you seen EU Referendum’s take on this?

    They think it’s the fuel that froze.  Or, at least, it’s a possibility.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on  09 September 2008 at 07:19 am

  2. I hadn’t seen it before.  It’s an interesting idea, although I think the global cooling angle is somewhat strained.

    Posted by Rob Fisher on  09 September 2008 at 02:22 pm

Post a Comment

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.