When Boeing delivered a new 777-300ER to Cathay Pacific on Jan. 30, the event turned out to be a lot more exciting than anyone may have expected.
After taking delivery of the new jet, the Cathay Pacific pilot made a low-level pass, with wheels up, just above the Paine Field runway before the big jet headed off to Hong Kong –with Cathay Pacific Chairman Chris Pratt and other VIPs among the more than 60 people on board.
The stunt, which apparently had not been approved by the airline, got the pilot fired and the copilot suspended, it was reported Monday.
A video of the flyby was recently posted on YouTube. It appears to show the 777 came within 50 feet or so of the runway and at a very slow speed.
I spoke Monday with one of Boeing’s top test pilots, and although this person would not comment directly about the incident, the pilot did did say that any such maneuver would need to be carefully planned in advance by the air crew, and have been appoved by air traffic control.
It’s not clear if air traffic controllers cleared the Cathay Pacific jet for the low-level pass. The FAA did not return my phone calls seeking comment.
Low-level flybys are not uncommon.
Earlier this year, I was on a 777-300ER delivery flight and we made a similar low-level fly by. The Qatar Airways jet flew just above the runway at Doha, Qatar before landing, as airline officials watched from the tarmac. But that pass had been coordinated by the Qatar pilots, and approved by the airline as well air traffic control at the Doha airport.
Pilots and others who have viewed the YouTube video of the Cathay Pacific plane have weighed in with comments on YouTube, some praising the skills of the pilot and others arguing the action was unsafe.
One note about the video: It’s fast, but if you slow the video down you can see two 747 Large Cargo Freighters parked in the background as the 777 swoops just above the Paine Field runway. The freighters are used to ferry 787 composite wings and one-piece fuselage sections to Boeing’s Everett plant for final assembly of the Dreamliner.
Here was a Boeing news release about the delivery ceremony. (No mention of the low-level pass.)
EVERETT, Wash., Feb. 6, 2008 — Boeing and Cathay Pacific Airways last week celebrated the delivery of the airline’s newest 777-300ER. The airplane is painted in the unique “Asia’s world city” livery that will help promote Hong Kong as the aircraft flies around the world.
The airplane, the sixth of 30 777-300ERs for delivery to Cathay Pacific, was unveiled at a pre-flight ceremony at the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Everett, Wash. Among the attendees were Cathay Pacific Chairman Chris Pratt and senior airline executives, Hong Kong Legislative Council members, Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department executives and Hong Kong Tourism Board members.
The Boeing 777-300ER is the backbone of Cathay Pacific’s long-haul fleet and is enabling the airline to operate more direct, nonstop flights to key destinations in North America.
Cathay Pacific Airways’ new 777-300ER carries on its fuselage a small flying-dragon logo, complemented by the Hong Kong brand line “Asia’s world city”. The flying dragon, which symbolizes the spirit of Hong Kong and its people, is seen soaring over green waves, which depict the lands and oceans of the world.
And this is part of a report that appeared Monday in The Times of London. (There are several major mistakes in the story, such as the plane’s speed. It was going slowly as the video shows.)
25 February 2008
A British pilot has been dismissed for “buzzing” a control tower in a Top Gun style stunt during the maiden flight of a Boeing jumbo jet.
Captain Ian Wilkinson astonished passengers by taking the 230-tonne Cathay Pacific jet to within 28ft (8.5m) of the ground shortly after take-off from Boeing’s US manufacturing plant.
The 322mph fly-by was cheered by onlookers, and the pilot, who is said to be one of the most senior aviators with the airline, later toasted the flight with champagne.
Footage of the stunt on January 30 was leaked on to the internet, however, and Mr Wilkinson was suspended. Cathay Pacific executives took a dim view of his actions, which were carried out without authorisation, and he was dismissed after a disciplinary meeting last week.
Ray Middleton, his British co-pilot, who had been unaware that the fly-by was performed without official permission, was suspended from training duties for six months.
Chris Pratt, the chairman of Cathay Pacific, is said to have been among the VIP passengers who were on board the Pounds 100 million plane, a 777-300ER that had taken off from the plant in Everett, Washington, en route for Hong Kong, where the airline is based.
Mr Wilkinson, who is in his mid-fifties and has lived in Hong Kong for more than 15 years, earned more than Pounds 250,000 a year.
Cathay Pacific is conducting an internal investigation and will submit a report to aviation authorities.
A spokesman said: “The pilot in command of the flight was dismissed as he had neither sought nor obtained the necessary company approval to undertake such a fly-by.”
The airline had a well-established approval process for such manoeuvres and had conducted them in the past at air shows but only “with proper approval in place”.
A Cathay Pacific pilot has claimed that Mr Wilkinson’s job was put in jeopardy only after footage of the incident appeared on the internet.
He said: “Wilkinson was very much one of the elite in Cathay Pacific and would have been very chummy with the airline executives he was flying that day. If no one else had found out about it the incident would probably have gone no further, but once it began circulating on the internet and Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Authority got hold of it, that was the end of him.”
Mr Wilkinson is thought to be considering an appeal against his dismissal.
The swoop has become a hot topic on internet forums for pilots, with some praising the stunt but others criticising it as dangerous. Cathay Pacific has issued a notice to all crew reminding them of the company’s policy.