A320 flies without engine covers after crew forgets to latch them

On November 8, 2018, Vueling Airbus A320-200 (registered as EC-MDZ) took off from Bilbao, Spain (BIO). Right after the take-off, a warning message was received by the pilots, and one passenger notified a flight attendant that an engine seems to be missing a cover. Nevertheless, the flight continued as normal.

The report on the incident was released by the Spanish Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission on September 5, 2020. According to it, at least several mistakes and negligence led up to the event.

Although there was a loud noise at the moment of engine rotation, as well as aerodynamic noises at high speeds, pilots did not find them unusual. The notice by the passenger was dismissed, as the flight attendant did not, or could not see the engine in the dark. 

Therefore, the problem was not detected until landing at Barcelona (BCN) almost an hour later. Both cowls of the left engine were missing, the fuselage near the junction with the wing was damaged, and a piece of one cowl was stuck in the landing gear. After a short search, the second cowl and shattered pieces of the first one were found at the shoulders of runway 12 of Bilbao airport.

A320 engine cowl AeroTime News

Detached Vueling Airbus A320-200 engine cowl at Bilbao airport (BIO) (Photo: Spanish Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission)

According to the report, the engine was worked on by several technicians who lowered the cowls but did not close four latches to secure them. They also failed to enter the appropriate line into the aircraft logbook and did not notify pilots of their work. 

The cowls, when lowered, were flush with the engine fairing, so neither the captain nor the ground crew noticed anything unusual during the inspection. However, they did not crouch down to look under the engine: if they did, they would have noticed the unclosed latches sticking out. 

Airbus A320 without engine cowling AeroTime News

A320 engine after the incident (Photo: Spanish Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission)

The technicians could not explain why they did not follow required procedures when working on the engine, and why – even though making other entries into the logbook – they did not report opening and closing of engine cowls.

Therefore, the report concludes that the crew did not have sufficient indications to conclude that something was out of the ordinary before the flight. 

This is not the first time such an incident happens. In 2013, after cowl loss caused a fire in the right engine of British Airways Airbus A319, a special safety bulletin, detailing procedural and physical changes, was issued by Airbus. While it would have prevented the incident, the EC-MDZ was one of Vueling’s aircraft that had not been subjected to the modification yet.  

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