Air Transat Flight 236

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Air Transat Flight 236
Air Transat Airbus A330-200; C-GITS@FRA;16.07.2011 609gz (6190023937).jpg
C-GITS, the aircraft involved, seen in 2011 after the incident
DateAugust 24, 2001 (2001-08-24)
SummaryFuel exhaustion caused by fuel leak due to improper maintenance
SiteLajes Airport/Air Force Base,
Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal
42°43′59″N 23°04′59″W / 42.733°N 23.083°W / 42.733; -23.083Coordinates: 42°43′59″N 23°04′59″W / 42.733°N 23.083°W / 42.733; -23.083
Aircraft typeAirbus A330-243
OperatorAir Transat
IATA flight No.TS236
ICAO flight No.TSC236
Call signTRANSAT 236 HEAVY
Flight originToronto Pearson Int'l Airport,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DestinationPortela Airport,
Lisbon, Portugal
Injuries18 (16 minor, 2 major)

Air Transat Flight 236 was a transatlantic flight bound for Lisbon, Portugal, from Toronto, Canada, that lost all engine power while flying over the Atlantic Ocean on August 24, 2001. The Airbus A330 ran out of fuel due to a fuel leak caused by improper maintenance. Captain Robert Piché, 48, an experienced glider pilot, and First Officer Dirk DeJager, 28, glided the plane to a successful emergency landing in the Azores, saving all 306 people (293 passengers and 13 crew) on board.[1] Most of the passengers on the flight were Canadians visiting Europe or Portuguese expatriates returning to visit family in Portugal. This was also the longest passenger aircraft glide without engines, gliding for nearly 75 miles or 121 kilometres.[2] Following this unusual aviation accident, this aircraft was nicknamed the "Azores Glider".[3]


Flight TS 236 took off from Toronto at 00:52 (UTC) on Friday, August 24, 2001 (local time: 20:52 (ET) on Thursday, August 23), bound for Lisbon, Portugal, with 293 passengers and 13 crew on board. The flight was flown by Captain Robert Piché, who had 16,800 hours of flight experience (with 796 of them on the Airbus A330),[4]: 12  and First Officer Dirk DeJager, who had 4,800 flight hours (including 386 hours on the Airbus A330).[4]: 12  The aircraft was a two-year-old Airbus A330-243 registered as C-GITS[5] that first flew on March 17, 1999,[6] configured with 362 seats and placed in service by Air Transat on April 28, 1999.[6] It was powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 772B-60 engines capable of delivering 71,100 lbf (316 kN) 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.[4][a]

At 04:38 UTC (almost four hours into the flight), the aircraft began to leak fuel through a fracture that had developed in a fuel line to the no. 2 (right) engine.[4]: 23  At 05:03 UTC, more than four hours into the flight, the pilots noticed low oil temperature and high oil pressure on engine no. 2.[4]: 7, 23  Although these readings were an indirect result of the fuel leak, the pilots had no reason to consider that as a cause. Consequently, Captain Piché suspected they were false warnings and shared that opinion with Air Transat maintenance control centre in Montreal, which advised them to monitor the situation.[4]: 56 

At 05:36 UTC, the pilots received a warning of fuel imbalance. Still unaware of the fuel leak, they followed a standard procedure to remedy the imbalance by transferring fuel from the left wing tank to the right wing tank. The transferred fuel was lost through the fractured fuel line, which was leaking at about one gallon per second. This caused a higher-than-normal fuel flow through the fuel-oil heat exchanger, which in turn led to a drop in oil temperature and a rise in oil pressure for the no. 2 engine.[4][3]

Air Transat Flight 236 is located in North Atlantic
Flight 236's departure, original destination, and ultimate destination

At 05:45 UTC, the pilots decided to divert to Lajes Air Base in the Azores. They declared a fuel emergency with Santa Maria Oceanic air traffic control three minutes later.[4]

At 06:13 UTC, while still 150 nautical miles (280 km; 170 mi) from Lajes and at 39,000 feet (12,000 m), engine no. 2 flamed out due to fuel starvation.[4] 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.[4]

Thirteen minutes later, at 06:26 UTC and about 65 nautical miles (120 km; 75 mi) from Lajes Air Base, engine no. 1 also flamed out, requiring the plane to glide the remaining distance.[4]: 8  Without engine power, the plane lost its primary source of electrical power. The emergency ram air turbine deployed automatically to provide essential power for critical sensors and flight instruments to fly the aircraft as well as enough hydraulic pressure to operate the primary flight controls (without which the aircraft would be uncontrollable). The aircraft lost hydraulic power for the flaps, alternate brakes, and spoilers. The slats would still be powered, while the primary brakes would be able to operate a limited number of times using pressure stored in the brake accumulator. Five minutes later, at 06:31 UTC, the oxygen masks dropped down in the passenger cabin.[4]: 9 

Military air traffic controllers guided the aircraft to the airport with their radar system. The descent rate of the plane was about 2,000 ft/min (610 m/min). 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. Piché executed one 360° turn, and then a series of "S" turns, to dissipate excess altitude.

At 06:45 UTC, the plane touched down hard, around 1,030 ft (310 m) past the threshold of runway 33, at a speed around 200 knots (370 km/h; 230 mph), bounced once, and then touched down again, roughly 2,800 ft (850 m) from the threshold. Maximum emergency braking was applied and retained, and the plane came to a stop after a landing run that consumed 7,600 ft (2,300 m) of the 10,000-foot (3,000 m) runway. Because the antiskid and brake modulation systems were inoperative,[b] the eight main wheels locked up, the tires abraded and fully deflated within 450 ft (140 m), and the wheels themselves were worn down to the axle journals during rollout.[4]: 11 

Fourteen passengers and two crew members had minor injuries, while two passengers had serious injuries during the evacuation of the aircraft. The plane suffered structural damage to the main landing gear (due to the hard touchdown and the abrasion of the locked wheels against the runway surface during the landing roll) and the lower fuselage (both structural deformation from the hard touchdown and various punctures from impact by pieces of debris shed from the main landing gear).


The Portuguese Aviation Accidents Prevention and Investigation Department (GPIAA) investigated the accident along with Canadian and French authorities.[7]

The investigation revealed that the cause of the accident was a fuel leak in the no. 2 engine, caused by an incorrect part installed in the hydraulics system by Air Transat maintenance staff as part of routine maintenance.[7] The engine had been replaced with a spare engine, lent by Rolls-Royce, from an older model which did not include a hydraulic pump. Despite the lead mechanic's concerns, Air Transat authorized 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,[7] allowed chafing between the lines to rupture the fuel line, causing the leak. Air Transat accepted responsibility for the accident and was fined C$250,000 by the Canadian government, which as of 2009 was the largest fine in Canadian history.[7]

Pilot error was also listed as one of the lead causes of the accident (for failing to identify the fuel leak, neglecting to shut down cross-feed after the first engine flamed out, and failing to follow standard operating procedures in possibly more than one case). 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.[8]


C-GITS, the aircraft involved in the incident in 1999.

Following the accident investigation, the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued F-2002-548B, requiring a detailed fuel-leak procedure in the flight manual and the need for crews to be aware of this.[9] This was later cancelled and replaced by F-2005-195.[10] The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued AD 2006-02-01, effective February 3, 2006, requiring new airplane flight manual procedures to follow in the event of a fuel leak for Airbus Model A330 and A340 aircraft.[11]

The accident led to the DGCA and FAA issuing an airworthiness directive (AD),[12] requiring all operators of Airbus models A318, A319, A320 and A321 narrow-body aircraft to revise their flight manuals, stressing that crews should check that any fuel imbalance is not caused by a fuel leak before opening the cross-feed valve. The AD required all airlines operating these Airbus models to make revisions to the flight manuals 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 fuel is being expended beyond the specified fuel consumption rate of the engines. Rolls-Royce also issued a bulletin advising of the incompatibility of the relevant engine parts.

The aircraft was repaired and returned to service with Air Transat in December 2001,[citation needed] with the nickname "Azores Glider". It was placed into storage in March 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic. On October 18, 2021, the aircraft made its last flight with Air Transat and was subsequently returned to the lessor AerCap. The aircraft was re-registered as N271AD[13] and stored at Pinal Airpark.[14] The future use of the aircraft is unknown.[6]

Related study[edit]

Margaret McKinnon, a postdoctoral psychology student at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto at the time, was a passenger on her honeymoon on Flight 236. She and her colleagues recruited 15 other passengers in a study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), published in August 2014 in the academic journal Clinical Psychological Science, which compared details recalled by passengers with PTSD with those recalled by passengers without PTSD and with a control group.[15][16][17]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The events of Flight 236 were featured in "Flying on Empty", a season-one (2003) episode of the Canadian TV series Mayday[18] (called Air Emergency and Air Disasters in the U.S. and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and elsewhere around the world). The flight was also included in a Mayday sixth season (2007) Science of Disaster special titled "Who's Flying the Plane?"[19] An error in the documentary is that near the end of the gliding, the radar indicates the IATA code "AT236" instead of "TS236".
  • MSNBC produced a report on the incident with the title "On a Wing and a Prayer", which first aired in the U.S. on August 7, 2005.[20]
  • The story of Robert Piché is depicted in the 2010 French Canadian biographical drama film Piché: The Landing of a Man culminating with the events on Flight 236.[21] Captain Piché is portrayed by both Genie Award-winning actor Michel Côté and his son Maxime LeFlaguais.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ TSC236 was planned to depart CYYZ at 00:10 UTC1, with 47.9 metric tons of fuel, which included 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.[4]
  2. ^ The on/off cycling produced by the antiskid system would rapidly deplete the limited pressure in the brake accumulator if it remained operative.


  1. ^ Crossette, Barbara (September 10, 2001). "Jet Pilot Who Saved 304 Finds Heroism Tainted". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
  2. ^ "How a civilian aircraft in distress set a world glider record". We Are The Mighty. August 14, 2020. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Air Transat Flight 236: The Azores Glider" (PDF). Retrieved July 27, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "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. December 17, 2004. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  5. ^ "Canadian Civil Aircraft Register (C-GITS)". Transport Canada.
  6. ^ a b c "Airbus A330 – MSN 271 – C-GITS: General information & flightlog". Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Mayday – S01E03 – Flying On Empty Air Transat flight 236 on YouTube
  8. ^ "Robert Piché Given Award". Aero News Network. Aero News Network. August 26, 2002. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  9. ^ "F-2002-548R2 : Fuel leak procedure". Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  10. ^ "F-2005-195 Fuel - Fuel Leak procedure". Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  11. ^ "AD 2006-02-01" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration.
  12. ^ "Airbus Model A318-100, A319-100, A320- 200, A321-100". Federal Aviation Administration. Archived from the original on March 13, 2007. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  13. ^ "N271AD AerCap Airbus A330-200". Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  14. ^ KIRK, DUNCAN (May 29, 2022), Air Transat A330's Pinal Airpark 05-29-22, retrieved January 7, 2023
  15. ^ "PTSD clues gleaned from passengers on terrifying flight". August 14, 2014.
  16. ^ McKinnon, Margaret C.; Palombo, Daniela J.; Nazarov, Anthony; Kumar, Namita; Khuu, Wayne; Levine, Brian (July 1, 2015). "Threat of Death and Autobiographical Memory – A Study of Passengers From Flight AT236". Clinical Psychological Science. SAGE Publications. 3 (4): 487–502. doi:10.1177/2167702614542280. ISSN 2167-7026. PMC 4495962. PMID 26167422.
  17. ^ Hayasaki, Erika (February 23, 2021). "How to Remember a Disaster Without Being Shattered by It".
  18. ^ "Flying on Empty". Mayday. Season 1. Episode 6. 2003. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
  19. ^ "Who's Flying the Plane?". Mayday. Season 6. Episode 3. 2007. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
  20. ^ "On a Wing and a Prayer (download)". MSNBC Reports. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  21. ^ "Entre ciel et terre review". (in French). Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved July 1, 2010.

External links[edit]