Japan Airlines Boeing 737 Jolted 90 Degrees By High Winds

The left wing of a Japan Airlines Boeing 737-800 was damaged on Monday, 13 April, after high winds shifted the aircraft while on the ground at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. The aircraft, at the gate at Narita’s Terminal 2, swung nearly 90 degrees. As a result, the wing struck the aerobridge.

A Japan Airlines 737-800 was damaged on Monday after winds moved it and caused its wing to strike an aerobridge. Photo: lasta29 via Wikimedia Commons.

The aircraft had been parked at Narita since 5 April. Japan Airlines has been steadily reducing flights and grounding aircraft over the past six weeks. There was no-one on the aircraft when the incident occurred on Monday.

A stormy, windy day at Narita

Japan’s meteorological agency had issued extreme weather alerts on Monday. It had predicted heavy rains, storms, and tornado gusts.

An empty 737-800 weighs approximately 50 tonnes. According to NHK, the plane’s front and rear wheels were secured by six wheel chocks. The winds were reportedly strong enough to either dislodge them or force the aircraft over the chocks. Narita Airport is investigating how this occurred and has since replaced the wooden chocks with metal alternatives.

Monday’s incident occurred at Terminal 2 at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Photo: bfishadow via Flickr

The aircraft reportedly “swung” horizontally and the left wing hit the aerobridge, damaging the wing. A light cover on the wing, measuring seven by twenty-five centimeters, was smashed in addition to the wing been marked.  Japan Airlines is investigating the incident.

NHK reports that the incident occurred around 16:30 Tokyo time on Monday. The recorded wind speed at the airport at the time at 20.1 meters. Later in the afternoon, conditions further deteriorated and a number of flights were diverted to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

Not the first time the airline has had incidents involving aerobridges

It’s not the first time Japan Airlines aircraft have bumped into aerobridges. Last year, a Japan Airlines 787 was been towed to its departure gate at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport. The aircraft’s left hand-side engine fairing struck and scraped against the underside of the jet bridge. The cause was prosaic human error. The tug crew took the aircraft past its designated stop point.

A similar incident occurred in 2014 at Honolulu. Another Japan Airlines 787 struck an aerobridge at Honolulu’s International Airport, damaging the aircraft’s left engine cowling. Both incidents, five years apart, raised significant logistical problems for Japan Airlines.

Japan Airlines has also had issues with its 787s striking aerobridges. Photo: byeangel via Flickr.

“In most cases, we would have a spare aircraft available to substitute for the grounded one. But at a foreign airport … “ said Takashi Ogata, Logistic Management Staff Manager for Japan Airlines Engineering at the time.

A jet engine cowling weighs over one and a half tonnes. Shipping them from Japan poste haste is no easy exercise.

Aerobridges have advantages and disadvantages

Aerobridges have lots of advantages. Anyone who has had to walk across the tarmac in the rain will sing the praises of them. For airports, aerobridges save on labor, time, and minimize security concerns.

But aerobridges also have disadvantages. Key among them is the hazard they can present to aircraft. While many incidents involving aerobridges and aircraft involve human error, others such as Monday’s incident at Narita, may not be. While investigations may yet see the cause traced back to incorrectly fitted wheel chocks, the incident also raises questions about the wisdom of storing aircraft so close to buildings and their fixtures.

Simple Flying has approached Japan Airlines regarding this incident. There has been no response before publication.