The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has issued a special bulletin after the windows of a Titan Airways Airbus A321 were damaged by high power lights that had been used during filming.
The bulletin was published on November 11, 2023, to raise awareness of the potential issue, only discovered while the aircraft was in flight.
News of an aircraft suffering damaged windows first surfaced in October 2023, when the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) in France declared that the AAIB was investigating an incident in which three windows had become “missing and loose”.
The latest information from the AAIB explains how the incident occurred.
In its bulletin, the AAIB detailed that the Titan Airways Airbus A321-253NX, registered G-OATW, was on a “multi-day charter away from base with a flight crew consisting of three pilots, an engineer, a load master and six cabin crew”. There were also nine passengers on board, all employees of the tour operator.
The aircraft left London Stansted Airport (STN) on October 4, 2023, at around 11:50 am local time, heading to Orlando International Airport (MCO) in Florida.
According to the report, once the seat belt signs had been switched off, the load master at the rear of the plane “noticed an increased cabin noise as he approached the overwing exits and his attention was drawn to a cabin window on the left side of the aircraft”.
He could see that the window seal was flapping, and the windowpane appeared to have ‘slipped down”. He described the sound as “loud enough to damage your hearing”.
Flying at just under 14,000 feet, the third pilot and engineer checked the window, and the decision was made to return to STN.
After only 36 minutes in the air the A321 landed, and when the plane was inspected two further cabin windowpanes were found to be “missing and a third was dislodged”. However, the cabin remained pressurized throughout the flight.
What caused the damaged windows?
The AAIB believes that the damage was caused on October 3, 2023, when high power lights were shone through the windows during a filming exercise designed to create the illusion of a sunset.
“The lights were first shone on the right side of the aircraft for approximately five and a half hours, with the light focused on the cabin windows just aft of the overwing exits. The lights were then moved to the left side of the aircraft where they illuminated a similar area on the left side for approximately four hours,” the AAIB said.
On close inspection of the windows, the AAIB discovered that the “foam ring material on the back of the cabin liners was found to be melted in the areas adjacent to the windows that were damaged or missing”.
In total, four of the aircraft’s windows were found to be damaged.
“The windows appear to have sustained thermal damage and distortion because of elevated temperatures while illuminated for approximately four to five and a half hours during filming activity the day before the flight,” the AAIB observed.
The AAIB concluded that it was likely that the lights had been positioned less than ten meters away from the plane.
The concern for the future is that there could be “more serious consequences” if window integrity is lost at a higher altitude.
The AAIB investigation now continues with the support of the BEA, the aircraft manufacturer, and the aircraft operator to understand how a similar occurrence could be prevented from happening.