A budget airline allowed a faulty jet to complete a 6,000-mile round trip from New York to Liverpool and back across the Atlantic despite knowing there was a problem with its engine monitors after it had been struck by lightning, a court heard today.
Globespan Airways Limited was fined £5,000 for clearing a Boeing 757 with 20 passengers on board to head back across the Atlantic with two indicators measuring engine thrust out of action, Southward crown court, in London, was told.
The company had used some “optimistic interpretation” of rules to allow take-off from, Liverpool, leaving the crew to manually adjust the throttle with the help of another gauge.
The failure had first been spotted on the outbound flight from New York’s JFK airport, but the Edinburgh-based airline, which trades as FlyGlobespan broke civil aviation rules, by later declaring the plane “serviceable” to fly back across the Atlantic via Knock, in Ireland.
The company admitted offences under the Air Navigation Order 2005 of flying a plane without a valid certification of airworthiness or a valid operator’s certificate. It was also ordered to pay £4,280 costs.
Recorder James Curtis QC said the engine pressure ratio indicators (EPRs) did not provide “core” information – because data could be obtained by using another type of gauge – but provided an “extra layer of information” for the pilot.
“I am told and I am satisfied that the failure of the EPRs on this flight did not render the aircraft unsafe and did not in any way endanger the public who were flying on the aircraft. In the event…the flight continued for some hours perfectly safely from JFK to Liverpool without any safety or difficulty. It rather placed extra burdens and pressure on the pilot and co-pilot to calculate manually the performance of the engines.”
But on landing, an investigation carried out by the airline’s contract engineers, Storm Aviation, could neither identify the cause of the failure nor correct it. This was reported to the airline’s flight operations director who “rather optimistically” interpreted the rules governing equipment that the Civil Aviation Authority required to be functioning before a plane could depart on a flight.
Curtis said the flight operations director then told the new pilot taking the plane over that the aircraft complied with the airworthiness certificate. The pilot also had to decide whether he could fly the plane safely and it appears he had no hesitation in “perfectly properly finding that the aircraft could depart safely”.
But by heading back across the Atlantic, the plane broke the law. In New York, it was examined again and the problem rectified. The recorder said he accepted this was a technical breach but “an important breach”.
The company had replaced the director of engineering and the director of flight operations and shown “every sign of unreserved acceptance of its mistake”.
Rick Green, chairman of the airline’s parent company, Globespan Group, said he was pleased with the outcome.