Boeing 737s forced into emergency landings after diversion from Spanish storms
By Keith Perry | 18 August 2012
Spanish authorities are investigating Ryanair after three flights had to call ‘mayday’ emergencies because of low fuel – two within three minutes of each other.
Spain’s transport ministry has opened an investigation into three emergency landings by the Irish ‘no-frills’ airline at Valencia airport in July, ministry sources said.
The Spanish consumers’ association said that the airline had “seriously endangered passenger security,” and called for a fine of €4.5 million for Ryanair and for its operating licence to be suspended for three years if the investigation confirms wrongdoing.
“All of you are aware of our ongoing efficiency drive, particularly regarding fuel”
Shane McKeon, Ryanair deputy chief pilot, in memo to pilots
Ryanair, which has a fleet of Boeing 737-800s, said that the planes were heading for Madrid. But serious thunderstorms in the Spanish capital forced them to fly on to Valencia in the east of the country. Valencia is about an hour’s flight time from Madrid.
Other aircraft were flying into Valencia, some of them also diverted from Madrid, but they had to remain in a holding pattern and give priority to the Ryanair flights to land.
A Ryanair spokesman said that its three aircraft landed “normally”, and had enough fuel to fly for another half-an-hour.
According to recordings of the conversation between a Ryanair pilot and air-traffic control (ATC) in Valencia, the flight commander clearly calls “mayday” because of low fuel.
Less than three minutes later, another Ryanair pilot also issued a mayday to Valencia ATC for the same reason.
The Ryanair spokesman said: “As required by safety procedures, Ryanair reported these incidents to both the Spanish and Irish aviation authorities, and will happily assist any investigation required into just three of Ryanair’s 1,500 daily flights on July 26.
“These three aircraft landed in Valencia some 60 minutes after their scheduled arrival time in Madrid having been circling over Madrid and Valencia airports under ATC instruction due to adverse weather.”
“All three aircraft landed with reserve fuel of at least 30 minutes (300 miles) additional flying – in full compliance with published Boeing and European Aviation Safety Agency safety requirements.”
The disclosure about the Ryanair flights comes as Exaro reveals that three UK Boeing 747 passenger jets made low-fuel emergency calls this year while flying over southern England. Exaro today also publishes an edited version of the filings about low-fuel emergencies to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
A Ryanair memo to the airline’s pilots details the company’s concern about what was described as “excess-fuel explanations”. This refers to reasons given by flight commanders for loading extra fuel over the recommended minimum.
Shane McKeon, deputy chief pilot and base captain at Stansted, wrote in the memo dated December 19, 2011, that pilots should only take on board the minimum as set out by the ‘planning log/flight plan’ or ‘plog’.
He wrote: “All of you are aware of our ongoing efficiency drive, particularly regarding fuel. The ‘plog + 300kgs’ issue in particular has highlighted how further efficiencies are achievable, and the number of ‘excess fuel carried with no explanation’ letters issued has fallen. There remains a small number of commanders who appear to have difficulty with operating with ‘plog + 300’ or less.”
The memo then outlines an example of an explanation for taking on extra fuel that, McKeon says, is unacceptable.
“The most unreasonable excuse is: ‘I like to land with three tonnes, so I take the trip plus three tonnes.’ This is not Ryanair policy; this is completely unacceptable; and is not what you are remunerated to do.”
The memo continues: “Thank you. US senator Daniel Moynihan said: ‘You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.’ I trust that this memo will be helpful in establishing facts.”
“Thank you for your continued awareness of the efficiency element of the equation ‘operate safely, efficiently and punctually.’”
Commenting on the airline’s fuel policy, the Ryanair spokesman told Exaro: “All Ryanair flights operate with full fuel loads as required by Boeing and by European Aviation Safety Agency regulations. This includes taxi fuel, trip fuel, diversionary fuel and contingency fuel.”
- In 1990, a Boeing 707 operated by Colombia’s Avianca ran out of fuel while landing at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. It crashed, killing 73 people.
Additional research by Joseph Barrs.