Rogue Screwdriver Part Caused Airbus A320 Engine Fire

An investigation into a fire onboard an Airbus A320 has concluded that the tip of a screwdriver was to blame. In October, the Jetstar Airways aircraft aborted a takeoff attempt from Brisbane airport after flames erupted from the right engine.

Rogue Screwdriver Part Caused Airbus A320 Engine Fire
The fire in a Jetstar engine was caused by a screwdriver tip. Photo: Airbus

The incident

The Jetstar Airbus A320 was operating a domestic flight from Brisbane International Airport to Cairns when it burst into flames during takeoff. According to TheAustralian.com, the pilot was applying thrust when the crew felt the aircraft vibrate aggressively. They also heard a repetitive popping sound that grew louder. Several passengers also saw flames erupt from the aircraft’s right engine.

The aircraft rolled to the right despite the pilot’s attempts to move left and keep the nose central. The pilot managed to bring the aircraft to a stop and successfully taxied back to the gate. Crew and passengers then disembarked safely, and the aircraft was examined for damage and to determine the cause.

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Engine damaged over 100 flights

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), investigating the cause of the flames, found the tip of a screwdriver in the engine. According to the report, the small metal tip had been in the aircraft for at least 100 flights. It was likely left in the aircraft when it underwent maintenance.

Rogue Screwdriver Part Caused Airbus A320 Engine Fire
The tip of a screwdriver caused damage progressively over 100 flights. Photo: Australian Transport Safety Bureau

The small piece of metal moved around the engine during the flights. It caused damage to the high-pressure compressor and the rotor blade. The report concluded that damage to the control mechanism of the rotor blades could have been the cause of the aircraft diverting to the right despite the pilots using the left rudder pedal.

The report stressed that,

“Tool control is an important part of maintenance processes. Small and seemingly insignificant tool components can, and have, caused significant incidents or accidents.”

In response to the incident, Mike Chapman, Head of Safety at Jetstar, confirmed that the airline has “issued a safety update to our engineering team on tooling checks and procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Foreign Object Damage

Finding a tool in an aircraft engine is certainly unusual. However, the incident is considered part of a broader categorization know as Foreign Object Damage (FOD). FOD can include any damage caused by something that isn’t supposed to be on the aircraft. This puts the screwdriver part on a level with wildlife damage and human interference.

Airbus engine at maintenance
The maintenance crew left the metal piece in the engine after a regular check-up. Photo: Getty Images

According to Boeing’s website, damage caused by FOD costs the aviation industry more than $4 billion a year. While there are checks in place to ensure maintenance and tools don’t cause FOD to aircraft, the report suggests that, currently, screwdrivers and other small “pseudo consumable items” are not included in many standard controls.

Although it is rare for maintenance to leave objects in engines, it does seem like a good idea to implement a control to ensure something like this doesn’t happen in the future.

What do you think of the report? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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