Emirates is in the spotlight after an incident in Dubai before Christmas raised questions about some pilots’ skills and experience levels. Last week, a Boeing 777-300ER bound for Washington DC overran the runway while taking off, narrowly missing houses close to the airport.
Emirates jet passes over homes at just 75 feet
According to The Aviation Herald, the Emirates Boeing (registration A6-EQI) was operating EK231 from Dubai to Washington DC on Monday, December 20, when the incident occurred. EK231 is the regular 02:35 departure across to DC.
The jet accelerated for takeoff on Dubai’s runway 30R. It rotated for takeoff past the end of the runway and did not become airborne until at the end of the runway end safety area. The Boeing passed over the first private homes at 18,500 feet (5,640 meters) past the runway threshold, flying 75 feet above ground level.
The aircraft’s transponder indicates A6-EQI stayed on the runway until accelerating through at least 216 knots over the ground about 14,400 feet (4,400 meters) past the runway threshold and about 90 meters short of the localizer antennas.
The Aviation Herald reports the aircraft sustained some damage on departure. After safely gaining some altitude, A6-EQI continued onto Washington DC, where it was checked for cracks as well as damage to the wings, flaps, and landing gear.
Pilots fail to correct autopilot altitude setting
The plane operated a return service to Dubai, where the Boeing was temporarily grounded. There are also unconfirmed reports four crew members lost their jobs over the incident. Emirates also issued a crew alert to its pilots in the aftermath. That crew alert suggested the autopilot was incorrectly configured.
“Crews are reminded there are no FCOM (flight crew operating manual) normal procedure requirements to change the MCP (mode control panel) after landing or shutdown,” the alert reads. The mode control panel tells the autopilot to stick to a specific altitude.
It appears the Boeing 777 pilots did not set the autopilot to an altitude of 4,000 feet, the initial climb altitude. Instead, they left the altitude setting at the master control panel at 0 feet (probably from the jet’s previous landing in Dubai). As a result, when taking off, the flight director did not indicate takeoff rotation but instead indicated maintaining that altitude as A6-EQI continued barrelled down runway 30R in Dubai.
“There have been times when the MCP altitude window has been set to the airport elevation which may cause issues on the subsequent departure. The FCOM 4.10.2. states that the AFDS (Autopilot Flight Director System) will engage in “ALT” when the first flight director switch is turned on if the MCP selected altitude is within 20 feet of the displayed barometric altitude. Crews shall not set airport elevation on the MCP after landing or shutdown,” the alert added.
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Experts question pilot’s experience and skills
Since the near disaster, many experienced pilots have said they usually prefer to hand fly on takeoff rather than immediately flicking to autopilot. They also say at least two pre-departure checklists should have picked up the 0 feet setting in the control panel.
There are suggestions that there was a lack of experience and situational awareness in the cockpit that morning, causing the errors. The incident also shines a spotlight on Emirates’ longstanding practice of hiring relatively inexperienced Boeing 777 pilots.
After several days on the ground in Dubai, A6-EQI has since returned to service.