***Update on 12/09/2020 @ 19:10 UTC – Inserted details from Delta***
A Delta Air Lines Airbus A330-900neo was en route from Tokyo to Seattle on Wednesday when the crew decided to return to the departure point. This was because of a hydraulic failure associated with one of the aircraft’s engines. The plane landed in Japan safely.
On December 2nd, a Delta Airbus A330-900neo performing flight DL166 from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) suffered a hydraulic failure associated with one of the plane’s engines inflight according to the Aviation Herald. The crew then decided the safest option was for the aircraft to return to Haneda. About three and a half hours after departure, the aircraft landed safely in Haneda.
Hydraulic failures can be serious, so a crew needs to be well trained on what to do. It is unclear exactly what the issue with the hydraulics was, but the fact that it warranted a return to Tokyo is telling that the crew believed it was a matter of concern.
There are three hydraulic systems on the A330neos: the Green System, Blue System, and Yellow System. Various parts of the aircraft require different hydraulic power systems. The nose wheel steering system uses the green main hydraulic power system, as does the landing gear and doors. An integral part of the thrust reverser is a hydraulically-actuated mechanical system that enables the aircraft to come to a stop safely on the ground.
Even if the issue was not serious at the moment, it could become an issue later on in flight. In normal times, airlines have a little more latitude when it comes to an inflight diversion. However, with the ongoing crisis, there are plenty of other things to consider. Entry restrictions, quarantine mandates, and testing requirements are new additions to the decision making process on top of traditional requirements such as maintenance providers, relief aircraft, and more.
The plane involved in this incident is registered as N406DX. According to data from Flightradar24, the aircraft is brand new and was only delivered to Delta in September, when it flew from Toulouse to Amsterdam. A few weeks later, in mid-october, the aircraft flew from Amsterdam to Nagoya, Japan, where it stayed for a bit before entering revenue commercial service in the last week of November, flying international routes to and from Seattle.
On December 5th, after about three days on the ground, the aircraft finally returned to Seattle on a ferry flight.
This aircraft appears to be one of the new Airbus jets that Delta has based abroad in an effort to skirt around US tariffs. It is unclear if this incident will affect that.
A lightly loaded aircraft
There were fewer than 100 passengers onboard the aircraft. The A330neo seats 281 passengers in a three-class configuration. There are 29 seats in Delta One. These are the suite-style product. There are another 28 premium economy seats, 56 extra-legroom economy, and 168 standard economy seats.
Even considering Delta’s seat blocking, which is no longer in effect in Delta One Suites and only includes middle seats, the aircraft was still very lightly loaded. This is not surprising, given Japan’s entry restrictions that prevent most travel except for essential reasons.
According to Delta, there were 84 passengers onboard the aircraft. The airline recorded no injuries amongst either passengers or crew, and all customers were accommodated on other flights after returning to Haneda as a precaution.
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