I boarded BA flight BA0049 to Seattle this afternoon for the MVP Global Summit 2013. It’s pretty standard stuff, normal airport security and boarded the flight at 14:30. After about an hour flying we noticed some panic movements between cabin crew. First they all went to a common area for discussion, then they all rushed to different corners of the aircraft all picking up the handset and they must all been in a conference call. 5 minutes later the captain announced, there are some mechanical issues in the aircraft, basically to reach high altitude there are supposed to presurize the aircraft like a ballon, for various reasons they were not able to do that. They been in touch with ground maintenance team and they couldn’t rectify the problem. The only option for them is to return back to Heathrow, but the challenge is they can’t land the aircraft with full load of fuel.
The procedure in this case is vaporize the fuel (watch the video) on board and make the aircraft light for safety reasons. You cannot vaporize the fuel above the ground, so they need to travel on top of the English channel and executed the procedure. It took roughly 25 minutes to vaporize the whole lot of fuel and we returned back to Heathrow.
In the airport this is treated as an emergency landing and we been surrounded by host of emergency vehicles and fire engines guarding (watch the video) all the way since landing until the aircraft is been taken to the parking lot.
For most of us, we take things for granted, we pay less attention to the emergency procedures the crew brief every time. You only realize the seriousness when things goes wrong. I truly admire the smartness and effectiveness of the BA team in handling the case. May be it’s just an industry standard, but when you see it in action, it’s amazing. If you think about it the lives of 400 odd people is now in the hands of couple of smart people working with a machinery.
When we landed, the captain was there in the entrance, I spoke to him and asked how often these things happen. He said, he has never encountered this in his entire career. There is a complaint pilots/captains are over paid for mostly auto pilot flights, but situation like this makes it worth every penny you pay to them. It’s not text book theory, you just need to execute what you have learned without any mistakes.
Luckily alternate aircraft is now arranged and we will start our journey again at 19:30 GMT