Air France Boeing 777 Suffers Engine Failure During Atlanta Departure

An Air France Boeing 777 had to make an emergency landing at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport on June 23rd, as it lost the use of its left-side engine just minutes after departure.

Air France 777
Air France engine fails 15 minutes after takeoff. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Air France flight AF-681 was scheduled to depart Atlanta Hartsfield for Paris Charles de Gaulle at 4.35pm EST Sunday afternoon. However, the flight was delayed for an hour and 12 minutes due to severe weather with lightning and hailstorms, which caused the airport to shut down for approximately an hour (TOTH to AJ for that info).

The Boeing 777-300 wide-body jet with 330 passengers and crew on-board was given clearance to take-off using runway 27R for the non-stop 8hr 25min hop across the Atlantic Ocean.


When did the engine fail?

Just 15 minutes into the flight, as the aircraft was still climbing, the captain declared a Mayday. He told the tower that he had suffered a complete failure to the aircraft’s left engine, a GE90 according to the Aviation Herald.

Air France GE90 engine fails: Photo: Air France

Now flying on just one engine, the pilot levelled the plane at 3,000 feet and requested permission to make a left turn and return to the airport, landing on the same runway he had just taken off from. Once it was determined that runway 27R was clear of debris, permission was given for the captain to make what they call a “hard landing“, as the pilot had no time to dump fuel.

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles were in place waiting for the plane to land

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles were scrambled to meet the incoming disabled aircraft. Thankfully, they were not needed as the pilot did a textbook landing and even managed to taxi back to the gate.

Emergency vehicles were waiting for AF-681 to land.Photo: Air France

According to eturbonews, a passenger aboard American Airlines flight AA358 that was taking off at the same time as the Air France plane on an adjacent runway said he saw the engine on the Air France jet catch fire.

“I saw fire and smoke shoot from the left engine on their climb — the plane, then levelled off and began to appear to lose altitude. I took a photo of the aircraft shortly before I saw the fire and then I began to film the aircraft as long as I could.”

Eturbonews also printed a statement from Air France about the incident which read,

“Air France confirms that the crew of flight AF681, operating between Atlanta and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, made the decision to return to Atlanta shortly after take-off due to a technical problem. This decision was made in accordance with the manufacturer’s procedures, company instructions, and the precautionary principle.”

Why would the engine fail?

Built especially for Boeing’s 777, the GE90 first entered service with British Airways in 1995. While generally trouble free, there have been the occasional instances of engine failure, similar to what happened to Air France AF-681.

In total, since the introduction of the engine, there have been four other incidents of a 777 engine failing during take-off. That doesn’t include the most recent Air France incident.

The previous incidents were put down to transfer gearbox assemblies (TGBs) which resulted in in-flight shutdowns. An investigation later revealed that the failures were caused by TGB radial gear cracking and separation.

Were you on board Air France’s stricken 777? Let us know in the comments.


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A passenger from the flight AF-681 sat next to me on the flight to Europe the next day and told me about this incident.
Ten minutes out, the captain announced they were returning to Atlanta “to check out an issue”, then announced to prepare the cabin for an emergency landing.
I asked her for details on the hard landing – her take was that it was a surprisingly soft landing for such a heavy plane, IMHO speaking very much for the skill of the crew. She later saw the fire trucks on the runway, but no immediate action.

Joanna Bailey

That’s amazing, clearly it was a very skilled pilot at the helm of this 777.


“Air France flight AF-681 was scheduled to depart Atlanta Hartsfield for Paris Charles de Gaulle at 4.35pm EST Sunday afternoon when the flight was delayed 1hr and 12min due to circumstances that are still not clear.” I can clarify the delay. Severe weather with lightning and hailstorms affected Atlanta Hartsfield on Sunday afternoon, causing the airport to shut down for approximately an hour. I was enroute from Orlando MCO to Atlanta on flight Delta 1058, due to land Sunday June 23 at 4:08 pm. The severe weather already was in full swing, and we circled in a holding pattern. The… Read more »

Joanna Bailey

Thanks AJ, that’s really helpful. I’ll add it into the article.

CJ Anderson

Want on the flight. But iI know the GE90 pretty well

Amy Tsushima

My husband and I were both on the flight. It was scary. The pilot, a female to clarify (so you may want to change the ‘he/him’ references in this article to ‘she/her’) was an absolute professional. The flight crew were a tad rattled, understandably so. A few minutes into take-off, we heard a very loud ‘BANG’ come from the bottom of the plane. Everyone heard it, and a few mumbled around that they thought the landing gear had gotten stuck while they were pulling it in. I saw a gentleman in first class turn around and loudly ask ‘What the… Read more »

kevin r

I saw a video of that on youtube, and there were a couple curious things about it. Notably, it sure took off quickly, and while this article says they didn’t dump fuel, the crew did tell ATC that they were landing with 62,000 lbs of fuel. Per wikipedia, a full load is 200,000 lbs of fuel, and a flight from ATL to Paris with 330 people (out of a capacity of about 360) would almost certainly need at least 80% of the available fuel, right?

Anyway, in any event, it seemed light. Great work all around, of course.