Explosive decompressions can cause a serious threat to life onboard an aircraft. Thankfully, such incidents are rare, but, of those which have occurred, one stands out as a particularly incredible story of survival. Specifically, this week marks 31 years since the captain of a British Airways BAC 1-11 survived being sucked out of his seat and pinned to the aircraft’s exterior for 20 minutes. Let’s explore the unbelievable tale of British Airways flight BA5390.
The flight in question
British Airways flight 5390 was a service from Birmingham (BHX) down to Málaga–Costa del Sol (AGP), Spain’s fourth-busiest airport. This was, and remains, an immensely popular leisure corridor among sun-seeking British tourists looking to enjoy a Spanish holiday. Today, Jet2, Ryanair, and TUI all ply this route. easyJet will join the party later this month.
BA no longer operates out of Birmingham. That being said, it does still serve Málaga from London (City, Gatwick, and Heathrow) and Southampton. This underlines the destination’s nationwide popularity among travelers from all over the UK.
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The day of the incident was June 10th, 1990. While this falls outside typical British school holiday dates, the flight was still reasonably well loaded, with 81 passengers (and six crew). Flight BA5390 was operated by the stretched BAC 1-11-500. This had a maximum capacity of 119 passengers seated five abreast. It departed Birmingham at 08:20 local time.
The aircraft involved
As we have established, the aircraft operating flight BA5390 on June 10th, 1990 was a BAC 1-11-500. British Airways operated 35 of these rear-engined planes from 1974 to 1993. Additionally, it also flew seven examples of the shorter BAC 1-11-400 from 1974 to 1998.
This particular example bore the registration G-BJRT. It was named County of South Glamorgan, after a coastal region of South Wales. It had only joined BA in 1988, although it was not brand-new at this point. Indeed, it had originally entered service with West Germany’s Bavaria Fluggesellschaft in 1971, which was renamed Bavaria Germanair in 1977.
The aircraft joined fellow German airline Hapag-Lloyd Flug in 1979, before moving on in 1981. This took it from Germany to the UK, where it joined British Caledonian, as seen above. It was with the carrier for seven years before BA acquired the airline and its fleet in 1988. At the time of the incident, G-BJRT had been in service for a total of 19 years.
Decompression over Didcot
Following an uneventful departure under the control of First Officer Alastair Atchison, the flight climbed out of Birmingham on a southerly heading towards the Spanish sunshine. During the climb, Atchison handed control of the aircraft over to Captain Tim Lancaster.
13 minutes after the flight’s departure from Birmingham, at 08:33 local time, G-BJRT was at an altitude of 17,300 feet over the railway town of Didcot, Oxfordshire. This was the point at which the flight’s storyline took a sudden and alarming turn. Specifically, the windscreen on Captain Lancaster’s side explosively separated from the plane with a loud bang.
In a terrifying turn of events, the force of the sudden explosive decompression caused by the window coming loose propelled Captain Lancaster head-first out of the climbing aircraft. Luckily, he caught his legs on the flight controls, which prevented him from being sucked out altogether. However, this disengaged the autopilot, forcing the plane to descend.
The aircraft picked up speed during its sudden descent as the decompression had caused the cockpit door to collapse inwards, jamming the throttle controls. First Officer Atchison elected to continue the descent to a safe altitude in terms of air pressure and oxygen levels.
This was because the 1-11 did not have sufficient auxiliary oxygen supplies for its entire contingent of passengers and crew. Meanwhile, cabin crew members had entered the cockpit to hold on to Captain Lancaster’s body. They feared that, if let go, his body might damage the wings or even be ingested into the engines, potentially causing further danger.
Emergency landing at Southampton
With the plane’s flight attendants holding Captain Lancaster in place, First Officer Atchison was able to regain full control of the aircraft, and set about initiating the process of an emergency landing. Air Traffic Control directed the flight to Southampton Airport.
Although there were fears that the runway might be too short for the fully-loaded BAC 1-11, there was no time to dump fuel and save weight, leaving Atchison with no alternative options. The flight eventually touched down safely at Southampton at 08:55 local time.
The landing took place 35 minutes after the flight’s initial departure from Birmingham. By this time, Captain Lancaster had been pinned outside the cockpit for more than 20 minutes, causing his colleagues to fear the worst about his survival prospects.
However, he somehow survived the tremendous ordeal, with just a handful of injuries to show for it. Lancaster suffered frostbite due to the time spent outside the aircraft, as well as shock, bruising, and fractures to his arms, hands, and wrists. Steward Nigel Ogden was the only other seriously injured party, suffering frostbite and a dislocated shoulder.
Investigators quickly got to work on the alarming incident, and soon uncovered an equally shocking cause. This came about after the missing window and many of its 90 bolts were located in Cholsey, Oxfordshire. The village is around 5.5 miles (9 km) from Didcot, where the aircraft had been above at the time of its decompression.
Upon examination, investigators found that the bolts used to hold the windscreen in place were fractions of a centimeter too narrow and short. They had been installed the night before the incident, when engineers changed the windscreen panel during maintenance.
While seemingly marginal, this difference meant they could not withstand the air pressure difference between the cabin and the outside at altitude. This difference is what caused the decompression. The investigation highlighted malpractice at BA’s maintenance facility in Birmingham, finding that workers had taken shortcuts to expedite procedures.
After the incident
The crew of British Airways flight 5390 became highly decorated in the aftermath of the incident. First Officer Atchison and flight attendants Susan Gibbins and Nigel Ogden were awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air for their heroism.
Atchison also received a Polaris award in 1992 for his efforts amid the frightening and challenging conditions that faced him. He flew for Jet2 after leaving BA, eventually retiring in June 2015 on his 65th birthday. Captain Lancaster returned to the skies just five months after the incident, and also flew for easyJet before retiring in 2008.
As for the aircraft, it ultimately spent just three more years with BA, departing in 1993 for Romanian airline Jaro International. It saw out the final eight years of its career here, eventually retiring in 2001 after thirty years of service. Needless to say, these three decades never had another flight quite like the incredible survival story of flight BA5390.
Were you aware of this extraordinary story from 1990? Do you know of any other similar incidents? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Royal Air Maroc Eyes Return Of The Boeing 737 MAX
Royal Air Maroc is looking at returning its Boeing 737 MAX 8 fleet to the skies as early as next month. The Moroccan airline, which has two MAX 8s in its fleet, is likely to deploy the jets between Casablanca (CMN) and Accra, Bologna, Lagos, London Heathrow, and Paris.
MAX 8 fleet to return in July
After grounding its 737 MAX 8s in 2019 in the aftermath of two deadly MAX accidents, Royal Air Maroc is set to return the plane to service next month. The airline is considering relaunching the MAX as early as July.
Royal Air Maroc took delivery of its two MAX 8s after the first MAX accident (Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29th, 2018), so its planes saw minimal usage before they were grounded after the second accident on March 10th, 2019.
The airline’s two MAX 8s (CN-MAX and CN-MAY) have both been in storage for over two years. It received the first (CN-MAX) in December 2018 and the second (CN-MAY) on March 1st, 2019, just nine days before Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. According to ch-aviation, the latter jet clocked in just 17 flight hours before it was grounded.
Although Royal Air Maroc hasn’t confirmed which routes the MAX 8 will operate on, Accra, Bologna, Lagos, London Heathrow, and Paris were earmarked before the carrier was forced to ground the plane.
Royal Air Maroc retrains pilots
Boeing made a swathe of technical changes to the MAX in light of the two accidents, both involving the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system. Royal Air Maroc has confirmed that its pilots have been fully retrained on the technical changes made to the MAX during its recertification.
With the U.S Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recertifying the MAX in November 2020 and other agencies worldwide following suit, many airlines have already reintroduced their MAX fleets to the skies. However, others, including SpiceJet, are still having problems getting the MAX recertified in their respective countries.
The plane was affected by another problem in April this year, this time involving electrical issues with a power control unit. Over 100 MAX jets were grounded as a result, which took Boeing over a month to solve before the FAA approved their fixes.
Additional flights to Europe this summer
With summer now upon us, Royal Air Maroc will operate additional flights to Europe to cope with increasing demand. The airline plans to operate extra flights to Bologna, Milan, Brussels, Paris Roissy, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Lyon. However, the increased schedule will only run for a short time from July 15-21 and August 15-18.
The airline is also participating in a special program (Marhaba Operation) to facilitate the return of expatriate Moroccans. This annual program helps Moroccans residing abroad (MREs) to return home for the summer, with over 2.5 million expatriate Moroccans visiting in 2019.
This year, Royal Air Maroc reported over 120,000 flight reservations in just 24 hours after offering special discounted prices as part of the Marhaba Operation. The discounted prices were ordered personally by King Mohammed VI to help expatriate Moroccans get home affordably for the summer.
Are you happy to see the Boeing 737 MAX return to service? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Solvay launches ‘breakthrough’ adhesive for aerospace industry
New adhesive and surfacing technology innovations will increase efficiency for aerospace manufacturers, Solvay says.
The company is launching AeroPaste 1006, 1009 and 1100 adhesive pastes and BR 179 non-chromate primer. These breakthrough aerospace adhesive and surfacing technology innovations not only increase part assembly efficiency but also offer unmatched processing flexibility, making them ideal for ever-increasing production rates.
AeroPaste is Solvay’s new generation of epoxy-based structural paste adhesives that provide film-like property and performance, comparable or superior to leading film adhesives on the market.
Designed specifically to enable rapid assembly and automation, this new portfolio of paste adhesives will support industrialisation requirements in the aerospace industry. AeroPaste will increase manufacturers’ efficiency and output by enabling fast and easy application, and offer excellent tolerance to variations in bondline thickness.
AeroPaste offers manufacturers flexibility and meets a variety of application requirements.
BR 179, Solvay’s next generation, sustainable, non-chromate primer is a breakthrough innovation in the world of aerospace primers. A truly sustainable solution for adhesive bonding, this non-chromated primer provides corrosion resistance comparable to benchmark chromated primers. BR 179 offers superior tolerance to primer thickness variations, excellent mechanical properties and usage flexibility with an out-life of up to 180 days, making it the ideal primer for aerospace fabricators.
“Solvay’s deep understanding of the industry’s needs and challenges is driving our new product developments. By focusing on innovation, process efficiencies as well as sustainability, we provide a step change to our customers” said Mike Blair, head of research & innovation for Solvay Composite Materials global business unit.
Overall, Solvay’s adhesive and surfacing technology support increased production rates, improved manufacturing efficiency and the growing demand for sustainable solutions. Solvay’s technologies are qualified by all major commercial and defence aerospace OEMs and enable the development of light, safe and fuel efficient aircraft.
Attend the company’s on-demand technical presentations and live product showcase 30th at SAMPE neXus 2021 virtual event to get the latest technical information on these innovations.
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HP and 3dbpm partnership reveal key additive manufacturing role
With 3D printing making an impact on the digitalisation of manufacturing and the disruption of industries, a new study by HP in partnership with 3dbpm Research found that additive manufacturing (AM) is playing a significant role in enabling this transition.
According to the study, which analysed key digital manufacturing trends among leading industrial parts manufacturers in Europe, 96% of respondents agreed that additive manufacturing helps them to get products to market faster, with 100% of respondents recognising the importance of increasingly digitising their production workflows with the ability to produce parts on demand as the biggest driver of this behaviour.
In addition, it was discovered that 63% of European parts manufacturers who took part in the survey will invest from €100,000 to over a million in digitalisation over the next 12 months, as the power of this agile ecosystem and technological capabilities are proving themselves in the most demanding of circumstances.
The HP AM Trends in EMEA Report dissects the motivations and investment strategies of manufacturers across five key European markets: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Benelux and the UK. Led by 3dpbm, a sample of industrial parts manufacturers of varying sizes and across a broad range of specialisations were independently surveyed. The study examines how firms that have already implemented digital and additive manufacturing processes for the production of industrial parts, perceive the benefits of pursuing such a strategy, and to what extent they expect the macrotrend to continue to accelerate in the short and medium-term.
“A digital transformation of manufacturing is underway,” said Guyante Sanmartin, managing director, UK&I, HP Inc. “The leading companies of the future will be those that harness the power of software, data, AI, and digital manufacturing to reinvent and personalise customer products and experiences. Great progress has been made over the last few years, with our HP Multi Jet Fusion technology delivering more than 60 million 3D printed parts since its inception. The need for this technology has increased exponentially over the last 15 months.”
The report indicated that sustainability has an influence on the decision to digitalise manufacturing workflows, with 61% of respondents agreeing that it is a relevant factor driver behind digitalisation. In addition, 91% noted that the ability to produce parts on demand was an important benefit, with a further 79% of those surveyed believing that additive manufacturing helps them deal with production challenges – such as the ability to adapt to fluctuating demand.
“The advanced capabilities of 3D printing are creating entirely new opportunities for disruption across industries and with a far more environmentally sustainable approach, which is a significant driver for manufacturers today,” said Dave Prezzano, managing director, UK&I, HP Inc. “For 50% of UK manufacturers, sustainability is a key factor in the decision to digitalise, who are recognising that 3D printing and its intrinsically flexible nature can empower a more circular economy.”
The report reveals that additive manufacturing operates as a key opportunity in the digitalisation of industrial manufacturing processes, with digitalisation considered a necessity for the near entirety of manufacturing processes by a large majority of survey respondents (96%).
The use of additive manufacturing in industrial parts manufacturing was reported as key to producing more cost-effective components, as well as making better products at faster speeds. UK and German industrial parts manufacturers interviewed are planning the most significant investments in digitalisation and additive manufacturing, with 50% of British and 40% of German respondents saying they intend to spend more than €1 million over the next five years.
Other findings revealed that 83% of survey respondents use additive manufacturing for the actual production of components and tools to make commercial products, with half of them (52%) already making complete finished products which is the final frontier of addictive manufacturing.
Analysis of country-specific trends dominates the second half of the report, providing a clear picture of different approaches taken across key European markets. The report finds that, among all European survey respondents, British industrial parts manufacturers are the ones planning the most significant investments in digitalisation and additive manufacturing, with 50% saying they intend to spend more than €1m over the next five years.
Respondents in the UK also showed high confidence in growth of additive manufacturing in the medium-term future, with 100% expecting extreme growth. When it came to stating what they believed to be the main drivers behind digitalisation, British industrial parts manufacturers stated that on demand production (33%) and the ability to make parts that can’t be produced with traditional manufacturing processes (34%) were key. 50% also stated production flexibility as the main benefit of additive manufacturing.
“We mainly focus on low volume batch production of engineering parts and we produce as many as 750,000 parts per year,” says Nick Allen, managing director of 3DPRINTUK, one of the British industrial parts manufacturers that took part in the survey. “We’ve seen an average growth of 32% over the past few years and we are projecting 55% growth in 2021. The trend towards using additive manufacturing for production is ever-increasing: we have watched the industry evolve over the last 10 years. When we started, we were producing 90% prototypes but now we’re producing around 90% end-use parts. More and more companies are adopting additive into their products and I see no reason for that growth to slow. We, for one, have doubled our capacity over the past 12 months and are looking to further increase it over the coming 12 months.”
This report builds on the findings of HP’s Digital Manufacturing Trend Report published in October 2020, providing a more extensive analysis of key drivers, investment strategies and country specific trends within Europe.
Highlights of HP’s AM Trends in EMEA Report include:
UK industrial parts manufacturers prepared for the largest investment in digitalisation and additive manufacturing
- British industrial parts manufacturers interviewed are planning the most significant investments in digitalisation and additive manufacturing, with 50% of British respondents saying they intend to spend more than €1m over the next five years and the total of them planning to invest between €500,000 and €1m
- British industrial parts manufacturers interviewed are accelerating the adoption of addictive manufacturing for final parts production with all the survey respondents (100%) expecting extreme growth of additive manufacturing in the near-to medium-term future
- 50% of British survey respondents said the key benefit of additive manufacturing is production flexibility (on-demand production, rapid spare parts manufacturing)
- Sustainability is an important factor behind the decision to digitalise for 50% of the British industrial parts manufacturers surveyed
European industrial parts manufacturers agree on urgent need for increased digitalisation
- 100% of respondents recognise the importance of increasingly digitalising their production workflows.
- 70% of respondents said that the primary driver for digitalising manufacturing workflows is the ability to produce parts on demand.
- 63% of respondents expect to spend more than €100,000 on digitalisation of their manufacturing workflows over the next 12-month period.
- 61% of respondents stated that sustainability is relevant or very relevant to increasingly digitalise their manufacturing workflows.
Industrial tooling disruption underway with additive manufacturing
- Over 95% of respondents indicated that additive manufacturing is a relevant technology for digitalisation in their current manufacturing workflows.
- 91% of respondents said that they use additive manufacturing to make industrial tools (including jigs, fixtures, and moulds). These tools are used to produce more parts via non-additive processes. Other relevant types of parts include EOAT and automation system components.
- 52% of respondents use additive manufacturing for making complete finished products
Additive manufacturing improves part functionality and production flexibility
- 96% of respondents say that additive manufacturing helps them get a product to market faster.
- 91% of respondents indicated that the ability to produce parts on demand is a key benefit of 3D printing.
- 79% of respondents said that additive manufacturing helped them deal with production challenges related to Covid-19.
European industrial parts manufacturers are confident on the future growth of additive manufacturing
- Over 95% of respondents expect the use of additive manufacturing to continue to grow.
- 83% of respondents are likely to invest in expanding their digital manufacturing capabilities in the next 12 months. For 65% of them, this investment will include additive manufacturing.
- 92% of respondents are likely to invest in expanding their digital manufacturing capabilities in the next five years. For 77% of them, this investment will include additive manufacturing.
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Transavia Eyes Holiday Destinations This Summer
Budget airline Transavia’s French branch says it has seen a substantial increase in bookings over the past few weeks. Attributed to a ‘catch-up’ effect and a strong desire for leisure travel, it has caused the low-cost specialist to schedule as many flights over the next two months as it did for the same period in 2019.
Flights to Greece up by 40%
While the crisis continues for many airlines around the world, some are seeing a rebound close to pre-pandemic levels. Air France-KLM Group’s wholly-owned low-cost subsidiary Transavia revealed Monday that it would be operating even more services from France to Greece this year than it did in the summer of 2019, increasing flights by as much as 40%.
With bookings for leisure destinations Spain and Portugal also doing well, overall, the airline will make as many seats available for July and August as it did two years ago. In terms of load factors for June, Transavia France is already at about 70% of pre-crisis levels, compared to only 50% in April.
The airline’s CEO, Nathalie Stubler, told BFM Business yesterday that the carrier had seen a 30% to 40% increase in sales over the past few weeks compared to the same time in 2019. She attributed this both to a ‘catch-up effect’ from the months of little to no sales but also to strong demand for leisure travel from French holidaymakers.
Bookings may also have been helped along by the news that all member states must roll out the EU digital health passport by July 1st. Several countries, including Greece, have already begun using the system.
Transavia France set to ‘double in size’
While Transavia France will be operating a schedule reaching 2019 capacity, parent airline Air France is planning for 65% of pre-crisis levels for July and August. Transavia’s network news came just as Air France CEO Ben Smith announced at the Paris Air Show that the parent airline group would be investing heavily in its budget subsidiary.
“We have accelerated the growth of our low-cost carrier Transavia. The point-to-point market continues to become more commoditized, and Transavia is the right tool to compete with our biggest low-cost competitors. We are doubling its size,” Mr Smith said Monday.
Transavia currently flies to and from six destinations in France – Paris-Orly, Bergerac, Montpellier, Nice, Toulon, and Grenoble. Pre-crisis, it flew to an additional 19 countries with a total of 88 destinations, serving 157 routes.
Like many other low-cost specialists, the airline operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet. Transavia France has 48 737-800s, with another two on order. Only three of the planes are currently listed as inactive. Its Schiphol-based Dutch sister carrier, Transavia Airlines, has 39 planes – four 737-700s and 35 737-800s.
Will you be flying with Transavia this summer? What prompted your booking? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.
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