The search for Air France Airbus A380 engine parts in Greenland

On September 30, 2017 an Air France Air France Airbus A380 (F-HPJE) experienced an uncontained engine failure over Greenland.

BEA France released this technical report on the search efforts in Greenland to locate the engine parts of the uncontained engine failure:

Following the accident to the Airbus A380, registered F-HPJE, during cruise over Greenland on September 30, 2017, the Danish Accident Investigation Board (AIB D) delegated the opening and carrying out of the safety investigation to the BEA. The BEA represents France, State of Operator, State of Registry and State of Design of the aircraft. Investigators from AIB D, representing Greenland (autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark), State of Occurrence, from NTSB, representing the United States of America, State of Engine Manufacturers, and BST-TSB, representing Canada, State where the flight crew diverted, took part in this safety investigation.

Four BEA investigators travelled to Goose Bay on Sunday, October 1, accompanied by technical advisors from Airbus and Air France. NTSB investigators, accompanied by technical advisors from the engine manufacturer Engine Alliance (which is a Joint Venture between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney), as well as TSB investigators, also travelled to the site.

A fifth BEA investigator travelled to Ottawa to attend the first read-out of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR).

The Airbus A380-800, operated by Air France, was performing a flight from Paris (France) to Los Angeles (United States of America) under the call-sign AF066. It had taken off from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on Saturday, September 30, 2017 around 09:30 (UTC), with 497 passengers and 24 crew members on board. Following a failure on the N° 4 engine while the plane was climbing to FL370, the flight crew diverted to Goose Bay Airport (Canada), where they landed at 15:42 (UTC) without any further incident.

Damage to the aircraft was confined to the N° 4 engine and its immediate surroundings. A visual check of the engine had shown that the fan, first rotating assembly at the front of the engine, had shown that the fan, first rotating assembly at the front of the engine, along with the air inlet and fan case, had separated in flight.

The data contained in the flight data recorder (FDR) was used to determine the aircraft track and the aircraft position when the failure of the N° 4 engine occurred and to demarcate a search area to find the parts which had separated from the aircraft.

This area turned out to be a wasteland covered with ice, situated about 150 km southeast of the city of Paamiut located on the west coast of Greenland.

The BEA got in contact with its Danish counterpart immediately after the accident to perform a visual search and recovery of these parts.

Quite early in the investigation, it was established that the recovery of the missing parts, especially of the fan hub fragments, was the key to supporting the investigation of the cause of the engine failure.

Search and recovery operations of the fallen parts were expected to be very challenging. The area is remote and weather conditions are extreme most of the year. Soon after the event, some parts were visually spotted and recovered but snowfalls prevented further helicopter flights to the site again. Snow finally covered all the parts that were still lying on the ground, preventing any new visual detection.

Other means of detection then had to be evaluated. These means had to be compatible with the particular conditions of this area, and all their subsequent operational constraints.

It was not possible to go to this region during the winter, as the safety level (cold temperature, short daylight, changing weather, presence of crevasses, etc.) was deemed not sufficient. Therefore, the closest time slot for considering search and recovery operations was Spring 2018.

After a capabilities prospection phase, it was decided to setup two consecutive operations:

  • ˆ  an aerial campaign, consisting in the use of synthetic aperture radars operated from an airplane, to try to detect and locate the missing parts on the ice sheet under the snow layer;
  • ˆ  a ground campaign, consisting in recovering the parts previously located during the aerial campaign, or in performing a systematic search with help of ground penetrating radars in case the aerial phase was unsuccessful.

    To face these challenges, a sub-group dedicated to Search and Recovery (“Survey”) was set up in the Aircraft Group (see Fig. 1).

The purpose of this report is to present the different tasks carried out to prepare and perform the search operations to recover the engine parts. These tasks were the following (see Fig. 2):

This report covers the period from the date of the accident to the end of June 2018. This period encompasses Phase I (helicopter flights to recover the debris located just after the event) and Phase II (aerial and ground campaign as well as their preparation), see Fig. 2. In June 2018, a plenary meeting was held with all the parties to debrief the aforementioned search phases. The definition of the search area progressed in parallel, with help of ballistic computations and numerical simulations. Further work and the budget are discussed in the last two chapters.

Read the full report: CLICK HERE