Investigation after plane took off too low over A38 at Bristol Airport

An investigation is underway after a plane taking off from Bristol Airport failed to get enough thrust and passed over the A38 main road only 100ft off the ground.

The flight to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands was just ten feet off the ground as it passed the very end of the runway and the pilots didn’t adjust the thrust settings until they were 450ft off the ground.

The incident is now the subject of an ongoing Air Accidents Investigation Branch because, even though there was no crash and the plane flew on to the Spanish island without any further incident, the incident could have been a lot more serious.

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A preliminary report has been issued by the AAIB investigation, and it found that both pilots noted how close they were to the end of the runway when the plane’s wheels finally left the tarmac. The report stated that the pilots had failed to set the correct amount of thrust, so the plane took off too slowly and didn’t get airborne until it was too far down the runway.

The AAIB report outlines how the Boeing 737 was only 3m or 10ft off the ground as it passed the end of the tarmac, and had only managed to climb to 100ft by the time it passed over the A38. The plane had six crew and 163 passengers on board when it took off just after 11am on March 4 this year.

The investigation reported that the take off was part of a training flight for a new captain, with a training captain acting as aircraft commander.

Neither pilot noticed that the thrust settings had disengaged as they sped up down the runway, which meant the plane took off with less thrust than was needed.

“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.