**Update 09/14/20 @ 17:35 UTC – Statement from British Airways added below.**
A British Airways 777, flying from London Heathrow to New York JFK today, declared an emergency and returned to Heathrow. To reduce its weight, the plane entered a holding pattern and dumped fuel. At the time of writing, the aircraft has safely landed back in London Heathrow.
What we know
The plane involved in the emergency landing today was a British Airways 777-200ER, registered G-VIIC. The aircraft is 23-years-old and was first delivered to British Airways in 1997. Until last week, 8th September, the plane was parked at Cardiff Airport before re-entering commercial service. These details are according to Planespotters.net.
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Today’s flight to New York JFK was the plane’s first commercial flight since June, a re-entry after nearly five months. The flight departed London Heathrow a few minutes late at 14:38 UTC (15:38 local BST) from its 14:15 departure time. After a quick turn over Heathrow, the plane made its way towards New York.
Approximately 16 minutes later, at 14:54 UTC, the plane began slowing down and lowering its altitude from 25,000 feet. The aircraft then turned around Northeast of Swansea and started heading back towards Heathrow just four minutes later.
The plane continued to reduce altitude to 10,000 feet and at 15:08 UTC began squawking 7700, the code for an emergency. Around that time, the flight also entered a holding pattern over the Bristol Channel and began dumping fuel to prepare for an emergency landing at Heathrow.
Definitely not the sort of contrail you want to see an aircraft leaving – BA 777 G-VIIC dumping fuel at FL100 over the Bristol Channel was LHR-JFK now returning to LHR @flightradar24 pic.twitter.com/nqT9PE4rxC
— Peter Howlett (@CardiffOTT) September 14, 2020
The plane landed safely in London Heathrow at 15:45 UTC and as of now, there have been no reports of passenger injuries. The change to emergency squawk codes and fuel dump could mean a major technical fault on the flight but we will have to wait for further investigation before confirming this.
This emergency landing attracted attention since many over Cardiff and surrounding areas were able to see the fuel dump from the 777. An aircraft dumps fuel to lower it’s landing weight and prepare for an emergency landing. Planes have a maximum landing weight. Landing at below that weight is essential to avoid a “hard landing,” which can cause structural damage.
Depending on the severity of a situation, pilots could also enter a holding pattern to burn the fuel more slowly. However, in a time-sensitive emergency, pilots can opt to dump fuel and quickly reduce to landing weight. This is what seems to have happened with BA113 today. Dumping fuel is not a decision taken lightly, due to the cost and environmental impact, however, an emergency can allow such a measure.
There are also rules surrounding such fuel dumping since they can impact those on the ground, as has happened before. In this case, the plane at least seems to meet the altitude criteria for fuel dumping. We will know more details soon following a statement from British Airways and investigators.
At mentioned, the plane touched down safely at 15:45 UTC, just under two hours ago. There have been no reports of injuries and the plane is likely being towed for an investigation into what caused the emergency.
British Airways has responded to our request for comment with the following statement, explaining the return as a precaution:
The aircraft landed safely after our highly trained pilots opted to return to Heathrow as a precaution. We’ve said sorry to our customers for the delay to their journey, and we’ll get them back on their way as quickly as we can.
We will be sure to keep you informed on any more updates or statements made about the incident as and when they come.
Were you on BA 113 today? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.