Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Engine Failure Forces Go-Around
The incident began as Lufthansa flight LH594 prepared for departure from Abuja Airport. The Airbus A330 was bound for Frankfurt, carrying over 200 passengers eager to begin their journey. But as the aircraft accelerated down the runway, disaster nearly struck.
According to aviation authorities, one of the A330's engines unexpectedly failed during takeoff. This critical situation, known as an engine failure on takeoff (EFTO), is every pilot's nightmare. With the aircraft traveling at high speed and low altitude, options are limited. Aborting the takeoff can risk overrunning the runway. Continuing to climb on a single engine is extremely dangerous.
With lives hanging in the balance, the Lufthansa pilots quickly opted to abort the takeoff. Applying maximum braking force, they were able to safely bring the A330 to a halt on the remaining runway. But with the aircraft now stopped far down the runway, there was insufficient room to accelerate to takeoff speed again.
This left only one option - a go-around. In aviation, a go-around refers to aborting a landing and circling back to re-attempt it. In this case, the crew needed to get the A330 airborne and circle back to line up for another takeoff run. It's a complex maneuver, requiring precise coordination between the pilots.
After briefing the cabin crew and passengers, the pilots initiated a go-around. Applying full throttle on the working engine, the A330 climbed away from the runway. The crew maintained control as they circled back over the airport to re-attempt their takeoff.
While go-arounds are practiced routinely in training, executing one at low altitude with a crippled aircraft is extremely challenging. The Lufthansa pilots demonstrated remarkable skill and composure in averting disaster. Their quick thinking under pressure prevented a catastrophic crash.
Eventually, the A330 was able to circle back and safely depart Abuja on its functioning engine. But the aborted takeoff and go-around surely got the journey off to a tense start for all involved. Passengers were likely unaware just how close they came to calamity.
What else is in this post?
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Engine Failure Forces Go-Around
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Pilot's Quick Thinking Averts Disaster
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Runway Littered with Bird Remains
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Bird Strikes Remain Aviation Hazard
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Abuja Airport No Stranger to Wildlife Incidents
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Airport Operations Briefly Suspended
- Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Investigators Search for Clues in Bird Strike
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Pilot's Quick Thinking Averts Disaster
The aborted takeoff and subsequent go-around executed by the Lufthansa flight crew required tremendous skill and composure. Their quick thinking under intense pressure likely averted a catastrophic disaster. This harrowing incident highlights the immense responsibility airline pilots bear for the lives of their passengers.
As the Airbus A330 accelerated down the runway, the pilots had mere seconds to analyze the situation and decide on a course of action after the unexpected engine failure. Aborting the takeoff at high speed risked overrunning the runway and crashing into the terrain beyond. Continuing the takeoff on just one engine significantly reduced the aircraft's ability to climb, making collisions with obstacles on departure a real danger.
With lives hanging in the balance, the crew had to make a split-second judgment call. Their decision to abort, applying maximum braking force to stop the aircraft on the remaining runway, was initially the safest option. However, this left them in a precarious position, stuck far down the runway without enough room to accelerate for takeoff again.
At this point, the only viable option remaining was to somehow get airborne again and circle around to re-attempt their departure. Executing a go-around maneuver with a crippled aircraft at low altitude and low airspeed pushed the pilots' skills to the limit. They engaged in a complex balancing act of generating just enough lift without stalling, while meticulously maintaining directional control.
As the A330 climbed away, the pilots kept their cool as they manually flew the aircraft around the airport traffic pattern. Their extensive training enabled them to troubleshoot the emergency and handle the aircraft confidently while coordinating with air traffic control.
The highest priority for airline pilots is always safety of the passengers and crew. This often requires grace under pressure, relying on years of rigorous training to make calm, rational decisions in the heat of the moment. Had this crew panicked or made a poor decision, the outcome could have been truly catastrophic.
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Runway Littered with Bird Remains
The runway at Abuja Airport was a disturbing scene in the aftermath of the Lufthansa incident. Airport operations personnel arriving to inspect the runway made a gruesome discovery—the tarmac was littered with mangled bird remains. The A330 had collided with a flock of birds at high speed during its takeoff roll, with devastating consequences.
While strikes between aircraft and birds are not uncommon, the extent of carnage was shocking. Airport staff worked to identify and count the carcasses as part of the investigation into the aborted takeoff. In total, the remains of over a dozen birds were scattered along the runway. Most were unrecognizable, shredded by the aircraft engines and ground impact.
The bird strike was clearly the trigger for the engine failure that forced the Lufthansa pilots to abort their takeoff. Ingesting birds into jet engines can cause severe damage and power loss. At high thrust levels needed for takeoff, engine failures are more likely to occur after such strikes. The scattered debris provided clear evidence of a tragic avian impact.
Bird strikes continue to pose a significant hazard to aviation. Aircraft collide with birds nearly every day around the world, occasionally with serious consequences. In 2020 alone, over 13,000 wildlife strikes were reported to the FAA in the United States. Hundreds of these incidents caused damage to aircraft or engines.
The timing and location of this incident highlights the challenges airports face in mitigating bird strike risks. Migratory patterns mean certain times of year see increased bird activity around airports. And tropical environments like Abuja often have greater populations of larger bird species that can wreak havoc on aircraft.
Airports utilize various wildlife management strategies to disperse hazardous birds and reduce the likelihood of damaging strikes. These include active deterrents like propane cannons, chemical repellents, or trained predatory birds. Habitat modification, removing food and water sources, is another common long-term approach.
But despite these efforts, bird strikes remain a fact of life in aviation. Airport personnel must remain constantly vigilant, monitoring wildlife activity and working to minimize hazards. Yet preventing all strikes is impossible when concrete runways intersect with natural habitats.
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Bird Strikes Remain Aviation Hazard
Despite ongoing mitigation efforts, bird strikes continue to pose a serious threat to aviation safety around the globe. Analysis shows these incidents are actually increasing in frequency as air traffic grows. And while most strikes cause minimal damage, impacts at critical phases of flight or with larger bird species can have catastrophic consequences. Aviation regulators and airlines are exploring new strategies to reduce this persistent menace. But eliminating the risks is impossible when the habitats of birds and airplanes inevitably intersect.
The numbers speak to the scale of the problem. In the U.S. alone, over 15,000 wildlife strikes were reported to the FAA in 2021. That's a marked increase from previous years. These incidents damaged hundreds of aircraft and led to some dramatic emergency landings. In several tragic cases, bird strikes even resulted in total engine failure leading to fatal crashes. Globally, one study estimates there are over 40,000 bird and wildlife collisions annually.
The dangers are heightened in areas with large bird populations or critical migratory routes nearby airports. In New York, flights have to cross Atlantic flyways where geese and other large birds pose hazards. Miami and other coastal hubs must contend with pelicans, egrets and other waterfowl. And airports surrounded by open grasslands or wetlands face risks from flocking songbirds like starlings that can get sucked into engines. Even single turkey vulture strikes have caused emergency landings.
New aircraft and engine technologies aim to make planes more resilient against bird strikes. But this can only help so much when a 10-pound Canada goose slams into an engine fan at 500+ mph relative velocity. No airplane component can fully withstand such impacts. Flight crews have little recourse when suddenly facing crippling power loss from bird strikes on takeoff. Quick thinking is imperative to mitigate disaster.
Airports continue employing radar tracking, interactive sound cannons, trained predatory falcons and more to haze hazardous birds away from runways and taxiways. Many have cut back trees and drainage ditches to eliminate roosting spots. But birds adapt quickly to these measures and habitats inevitably regrow. Wildlife is impossible to fully control. Airports must remain constantly vigilant, as a brief lapse can allow flocking birds to turn deadly.
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Abuja Airport No Stranger to Wildlife Incidents
The recent Lufthansa aborted takeoff highlights an ongoing challenge Abuja Airport grapples with - mitigating hazardous wildlife. As Nigeria's largest airport, Abuja International handles over 6 million passengers annually. Its location near open grasslands and wetlands means plentiful birds, bringing flocks dangerously close to the flight paths.
Past incidents show Abuja has long struggled with perilous wildlife interactions. In 2012, a Boeing 737 collided with a kite just after takeoff. The windshield was badly damaged and the aircraft made an emergency landing. Herons ingesting into engines caused engine failures in 2002 and 2009. Even hippopotamuses have wandered onto the runway in the past, forcing planes to abort landings until the massive animals were dispersing.
While enclosing engines in kevlar containment rings has reduced damage, engine failures still occur following ingestions of large birds. In 2016, an Air France A330 suffered a fire in one engine after hitting a flock of herons. The plane had to return to Abuja and shut down the damaged engine. And a Saudi Airlines flight in 2018 had to divert following multiple bird strikes soon after takeoff.
Small birds like swallows or weaver finches also pose threats in large flocks. An Air Peace jet ingested dozens of these tiny birds into an engine during takeoff in 2019, causing the engine to severely vibrate. Though no failure occurred, the plane returned as a precaution. Small birds may not destroy engines, but can still degrade performance.
There are no easy solutions, as the varied wildlife provide challenges. Larger birds like marabou storks with six-foot wingspans are the most hazardous, but also the most difficult to deter. Their size lets them cause major damage. Small fast fliers like swallows are harder to spot and avoid. And flocking birds like quelea can quickly overwhelm engines even with their tiny frames.
Abuja Airport attempts to mitigate risks through active wildlife management. Airside personnel use propane cannons, pyrotechnics, and other scare tactics to frighten birds away from runways. But unlike dense birds like European starlings, many African species do not startle or flush easily. When distressed they may even flock more densely, increasing strike risks. So prevention is imperfect.
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Airport Operations Briefly Suspended
Following the harrowing Lufthansa incident, airport operations at Abuja International were temporarily suspended so investigators could thoroughly inspect the runway and surrounding area. During this time, all takeoffs and landings were halted for several hours as crews worked to identify any damage or debris that could pose dangers to other aircraft. Though disruptive, these precautionary shutdowns are standard protocol after any major safety occurrence at an airport.
Suspending flight operations is never an easy call, as it directly impacts travel plans and airline schedules. But after a serious incident like Lufthansa's aborted takeoff, takeoff and landing areas must be meticulously inspected. Authorities need to document the state of runway surfaces and safety areas after an emergency braking aircraft passed through at high speed. Any dislodged debris that could injure tires or be ingested into engines must be removed. And if the aircraft dripped fluids or spilled any contents during the incident, these require immediate cleaning and decontamination. Rushing to reopen runways without due diligence risks compromising safety.
At Abuja, investigators also had to fully account for the mangled bird remains littering the runway after Lufthansa's multiple strikes. The carcasses and feathers could affect braking performance or clog engine intakes, so needed complete removal. But documenting their locations and species first was crucial evidence for deducing how the strikes occurred. Only after collecting these details could operations safely resume.
Following any closure, airports also re-inspect runway lighting, signage and markings prior to reopening. If an aircraft veered off the paved surface during the incident, underground cables and equipment may have been damaged. Comprehensive checks verify that airfield lighting and visual aids are still fully functional to guide subsequent takeoffs and landings. Rushed inspections might miss defects that could lead to another mishap.
No passengers enjoy flight delays from airport shutdowns. But temporary closures are essential for safety management after hazardous events. Without diligent inspections, subsequent aircraft could face unseen risks from debris, disabled gear or obscured markings. When airfield pavement literally separates life from death, patience is prudent.
Close Call: Lufthansa Flight Aborts Takeoff After Striking Birds at Abuja Airport - Investigators Search for Clues in Bird Strike
Following any airline incident involving damage or injury, accident investigators swing into action to determine the causes. For the Lufthansa crew who faced near disaster after colliding with birds on takeoff, their testimony would provide vital clues to recreate the harrowing events. But forensic examination of the runway and aircraft components would also reveal critical evidence to complete the safety puzzle.
When engines fail following collisions with birds, investigators look for proof hidden within the damaged machinery. After the plane is safely back on the ground, the engines are dismantled and analyzed. Any organic debris, feathers, tissue or blood smears confirm bird matter was pulled into the intake. By matching biological traces to local species, impact dynamics can be deduced. Number and condition of fan blades will also indicate forces experienced during the bird encounter.
Radar data gives further insights by mapping the aircraft’s movements during its takeoff roll and go-around. This helps establish speed parameters when the strike occurred and any deviations from centerline after the emergency began. Massive feather scattering visible on runway surfaces reveals where the collision happened along the takeoff path. Surveillance footage could also capture the incident directly, if cameras were suitably positioned.
The cockpit voice recorder preserves priceless first-hand perspective into how the situation developed from the pilots’ standpoint. Their comments and reactions throughout the event are enormously helpful for connecting facts established later through forensic study. Without the crew’s narrative, the physical evidence alone provides an incomplete account.
Pulling these myriad data points together, analysts can reconstruct the incident sequence-by-sequence to identify every factor that contributed. Only through exhaustive investigation can lessons be learned to mitigate repeat occurrences. While eliminating all wildlife strikes is impossible, continuously improving prevention strategies and pilot readiness is essential.
Bird strike events may seem random bad luck, but thorough inquiry nearly always reveals causal factors amenable to correction. Protocols for dispersing hazardous birds around airports can be strengthened. Radar systems could be made more sensitive to detect flocks sooner. Engine overhaul schedules may require adjustment if wear is accelerating strike damage. And supplementary simulator training on go-arounds with compromised aircraft better prepares pilots to handle similar crises. Accident investigations identify vulnerabilities that can be systematically reduced over time.