Bristol Airport serious incident as plane took off too low over A38

Aircraft on Bristol Airports apron and taxiways
-Credit: (Image: No credit)

An investigation has been launched following an incident where a plane departing from Bristol Airport failed to achieve sufficient thrust, resulting in it flying just 100ft above the A38 main road.

The aircraft, destined for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, was a mere ten feet off the ground as it cleared the runway's end, with the pilots only adjusting the thrust settings when they reached an altitude of 450ft.

Despite no crash occurring and the plane continuing its journey to the Spanish island without further issues, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is now investigating due to the potential severity of the incident.

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A preliminary report by the AAIB revealed that both pilots were aware of their proximity to the runway's end as the plane's wheels finally lifted off the tarmac. The report indicated that the pilots had not set the correct thrust level, causing the plane to take off too slowly and not become airborne until it was too far down the runway.

According to the AAIB report, the Boeing 737 was only 3m or 10ft above the ground as it passed the runway's end, and had only ascended to 100ft when it flew over the A38. The plane, which took off just after 11am on March 4 this year, had six crew members and 163 passengers on board, as reports Bristol Live.

The report also noted that the take-off was part of a training flight for a new captain, with a training captain serving as the aircraft commander. Neither pilot realised that the thrust settings had become disengaged during their acceleration on the runway, leading to a takeoff with insufficient power.

"Despite the standard operating procedures requiring that the thrust is set by 60kt and checked as correct at 80kt, the incorrect setting was missed by both pilots," the investigators said. "This resulted in the aircraft takeoff being conducted with significantly less thrust than required, 84.5 per cent N (newtons), was used instead of 92.8 per cent N, with the associated reduction in aircraft performance," they added.

The investigation report said it was not unexpected that the pilots didn't notice they weren't going fast enough. "It is well known that humans are poor at detecting acceleration rates and recognising that their takeoff run is not matching the calculated performance," the report said.

"Performance issues can be insidious and invisible to the crew until very late in the takeoff roll. The investigation continues to examine all pertinent factors associated with this serious incident and a final report will be issued in due course," they added.