FAA puzzled about Delta Air Lines fuel dumping incident

Alex Millauer, shutterstock.com

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating Delta Air Lines Flight 89 incident when a Boeing 777 aircraft in emergency dumped fuel over Los Angeles. The fuel landed on several schools grounds. Now, the U.S. authority is puzzled on what prompted Delta’s crew to perform a usual procedure in a very unusual way. 

Delta Air Lines’ jet was carrying Flight 89 from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG), China, on January 14, 2020. Two minutes into climbing, the crew of the Boeing 777-200 reported compressor stalls in the right-hand Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engine. They were cleared for an emergency landing back in their departing airport. To avoid landing heavy, the flight crew dumped some of the fuel onboard and eventually landed without any damage reported.

However, as it turned out minutes later, the fuel landed in a populated area, hitting several schools. Emergency services, which were called to the scenes, later reported that 26 people were affected by the incident, including seventeen children and nine adults who complained about skin irritation. The affected people were treated on the spot by the emergency services, none required to be transported to a hospital.

Fuel dumping is a normal procedure in case of an emergency landing, especially when declared so early after takeoff. For safe operations, the aircraft needs to reach a weight within the maximum structural landing weight limits. 

However, what puzzles the authority is the circumstances in which it occurred. On January 15, 2020, the FAA explained that fuel dumping procedures are regulated by special rules that apply to aircraft operating into and out of any major airport in the United States, such as Los Angeles International Airport. 

“These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground,” is written the statement by the authority.

The recommended altitude is between 1500 and 1800 meters (5000 and 6000 feet). However, it appears that this time the fuel was dumped at a low altitude of around 700 meters (2300 feet).

The FAA has allegedly also explained that prior to dumping the fuel, Delta pilots did not inform air traffic control, which could direct the plane to an appropriate area for fuel release, NBC News reported.

Immediately after the incident, Delta Air Lines explained that fuel release was required as part of a normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight. However, the airline also said it shared “concerns regarding reports of minor injuries to adults and children at schools in the area.” The airline’s update the following date stated that jet fuel release in the area had been cleaned and cleared.


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