Air Transat Flight 236
The Airbus A330-243 involved in the incident.
|Date||August 24, 2001|
|Summary||Fuel starvation caused by fuel leak due to improper maintenance|
|Site||Lajes Air Force Base,
Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal
|Injuries (non-fatal)||18 (minor)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A330-243|
|Flight origin||Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Air Transat Flight 236 was a transatlantic flight bound for Lisbon, Portugal, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, that lost all power while flying over the Atlantic Ocean on August 24, 2001. The Airbus A330 suffered a complete power loss due to a fuel leak caused by improper maintenance. Captain Robert Piché, 48, an experienced glider pilot, and First Officer Dirk de Jager, 28, flew the plane to a successful emergency landing in the Azores, saving all 306 people (293 passengers and 13 crew) on board. Most of the passengers on the flight were Canadians visiting Europe and Portuguese expatriates returning to visit family in Portugal.
In about 19 minutes, Piché and De Jager flew their plane without power some 120 km (75 miles), further than any passenger jet in history. The previous record had also been set by Canadian pilots, during the 1983 Gimli Glider incident.
Flight TS 236 took off from Toronto at 0:52 (UTC) on Friday, August 24, 2001 (local time: 8:52 pm (ET) on Thursday, August 23), bound for Lisbon, Portugal. There were 293 passengers and thirteen crew members on board. The aircraft was an Airbus A330-243 registered as C-GITS that first flew on March 16, 1999, configured with 362 seats and placed in service by Air Transat on April 28, 1999. It was powered by two Rolls Royce Trent 772B-60 engines capable of delivering 71,100lb thrust each. Leaving the gate in Toronto, the aircraft had 46.9 tonnes of fuel on board, 4.5 tonnes more than required by regulations.[Note 1]
At 05:16 UTC, more than 4 hours into the flight, a cockpit warning system chimed and warned of low oil temperature and high oil pressure on engine #2. There was no obvious connection between an oil temperature or pressure problem and a fuel leak. Consequently, Captain Robert Piché, who had 16,800 hours of flight experience, and First Officer Dirk DeJager, who had 4,800 flight hours, suspected they were false warnings and shared that opinion with their maintenance control centre, who advised them to monitor the situation.
At 05:36 UTC, the pilots received a warning of fuel imbalance. They followed a standard procedure to remedy the imbalance by transferring fuel from the left wing tank to the near-empty right wing tank. Unknown to the pilots, the aircraft had developed a fuel leak in a line to the #2 (right) engine. The fuel transfer caused fuel from the left wing tank to be lost through the leak in the line to the #2 engine. The fractured fuel line, which was leaking at about one gallon per second, caused a higher than normal fuel flow through the fuel-oil heat exchanger (FOHE), which in turn led to a drop in oil temperature and a rise in oil pressure for the #2 engine.
At 06:13 UTC, while still 135 miles (217 km) from Lajes, engine #2 flamed out due to fuel starvation. Captain Piché then initiated a descent to 33,000 feet (10,000 m), which was the proper single-engine altitude for the weight of the plane at that time. Ten minutes later, the crew sent a Mayday to Santa Maria Oceanic air traffic control.
Three minutes later, at 06:26 UTC and approximately 65 nautical miles (120 km) from Lajes Air Base, engine #1 also flamed out. Without engine power, the plane lost its primary source of electrical power. The emergency ram air turbine was deployed automatically to provide essential power for critical sensors and instruments to fly the aircraft. However, the aircraft lost its main hydraulic power, which operates the flaps, alternate brakes, and spoilers. The slats would still be powered, however, when the flaps #1 position was selected.
Military air traffic controllers guided the aircraft to the airport with their radar system. The descent rate of the plane was about 2,000 feet (600 metres) per minute. They calculated they had about 15 to 20 minutes left before they would be forced to ditch in the ocean. The air base was sighted a few minutes later. Captain Piché had to execute one 360 degree turn, and then a series of "S" turns, to dissipate excess altitude.
At 06:45 UTC, the plane touched down hard, approximately 1,030 feet (310 m) past the threshold of Runway 33, at a speed of approximately 200 knots (370 km/h), bounced once and then touched down again, approximately 2,800 feet (850 m) from the threshold. Maximum emergency braking was applied and retained, and the plane came to a stop 7,600 feet (2,300 m) from the threshold of that 10,000-foot (3,000 m) runway. Since the anti-skid and brake modulation systems were inoperative, the eight main wheels locked up; the tires abraded and fully deflated within 450 feet (140 m). Fourteen passengers and two crew members suffered minor injuries, while two passengers suffered serious injuries during the evacuation of the aircraft. The plane suffered structural damage to the main landing gear and the lower fuselage.
The Portuguese Aviation Accidents Prevention and Investigation Department (GPIAA) investigated the incident along with Canadian and French authorities.
The investigation revealed the cause of the incident was a fuel leak in the #2 engine, caused by an incorrect part installed in the hydraulics system by Air Transat maintenance staff. Air Transat maintenance staff had replaced the engine as part of routine maintenance, using a spare engine, lent by Rolls-Royce, from an older model. This borrowed engine did not include a hydraulic pump. Despite the lead mechanic's concerns, Air Transat ordered the use of a part from a similar engine, an adaptation that did not maintain adequate clearance between the hydraulic lines and the fuel line. This lack of clearance — on the order of millimetres from the intended part  — allowed chafing between the lines to rupture the fuel line, causing the leak. Air Transat accepted responsibility for the incident and was fined 250,000 Canadian dollars by the Canadian government, which as of 2009[update] was the largest fine in Canadian history.
Pilot error was also listed as one of the lead causes of the incident (for failing to identify the fuel leak). Nevertheless, the pilots returned to a heroes' welcome from the Canadian press as a result of their successful unpowered landing. In 2002, Captain Piché was awarded the Superior Airmanship Award by the Air Line Pilots' Association.
The incident also led to the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issuing an Airworthiness Directive, requiring all operators of Airbus models A318, A319, A320 and A321 narrow body aircraft to revise the flight manual, stressing that crews should check that any fuel imbalance is not caused by a fuel leak before opening the cross-feed valve. The French Airworthiness Directive (AD) required all airlines operating these Airbus models to make revisions to the Flight Manual before any further flights were allowed. The FAA gave a 15-day grace period before enforcing the AD. Airbus also modified its computer systems; the on-board computer now checks all fuel levels against the flight plan. It now gives a clear warning if more fuel is being lost than the engines can consume. Rolls-Royce also issued a bulletin advising of the incompatibility of the relevant engine parts.
MSNBC also produced a report on the incident, entitled "A Wing and A Prayer".
The story of Robert Piché is depicted in the 2010 French Canadian biographical drama film Piché: The Landing of a Man (Piché: Entre ciel et terre, FR) culminating with the events on Flight 236. Captain Piché is portrayed by both Genie Award-winning actor Michel Côté and his son Maxime LeFlaguais.
Dr. Margaret McKinnon, who was a postdoctoral psychology student at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto at the time, was a passenger on her honeymoon on Flight 236. She and colleagues recruited 15 other passengers in a study of PTSD, published in August 2014 in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, which compared details recalled by passengers with PTSD with passengers without PTSD and with a control group.
- US Airways Flight 1549 ("Miracle on the Hudson")
- Air Canada Flight 143 ("Gimli Glider")
- List of airline flights that required gliding
- TSC236 was planned to depart CYYZ at 00:10 UTC1, with 47.9 metric tons of fuel, which included a 5.5 tons over and above the fuel required by regulations for the planned flight; the actual take-off time was at 00:52 with a reported 46.9 tons of fuel on board.
- Crossette, Barbara (September 10, 2001). "Jet Pilot Who Saved 304 Finds Heroism Tainted". The New York Times. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
- Mayday - S01E03 - Flying On Empty Air Transat flight 236 on YouTube
- "Canadian Civil Aircraft Register". Transport Canada.
- "Accident Investigation Final Report - All Engines-out Landing Due to Fuel Exhaustion - Air Transat Airbus A330-243 marks C-GITS, Lajes, Azores, Portugal, 24 August 2001" (PDF). Portuguese Aviation Accidents Prevention and Investigation Department. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- "Air Transat Flight 236: The Azores Glider" (PDF). Retrieved July 27, 2010.
- "ASN Aircraft accident Airbus A330-243 C-GITS Terceira-Lajes AFB, Azores (LFB)". Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- "Robert Piché Given Award". Aero News Network. Aero News Network. 26 August 2002. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Airbus Model A318-100, A319-100, A320- 200, A321-100
- "Entre ciel et terre review (in French)". cinoche.com. Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
- PTSD clues gleaned from passengers on terrifying flight
- Accident Investigation Final Report from the Portuguese Aviation Accidents Prevention and Investigation Department (Archive, Alternate link, Alternate Link #2)
- Report profile (Portuguese)
- "Air Transat Flight TS 236 of August 24, 2001 - Air Transat welcomes investigation findings and recommendations" (Archive). Air Transat. October 17, 2004.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- News report on logistical issues after the incident
- "Grateful passengers praise Air Transat pilot." CBC News. Sunday August 26, 2001.
- Captain Robert Piché's Official Website (French)
- PTSD clues gleaned from passengers on terrifying flight