Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 17 News List

CAL flight forced back

FALSE ALARM After seeing smoke stream from one of the 747's four jets, flight crew immediately returned to Taiwan. This is the second incident of its kind this month

By Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTER

A China Airlines Co (華航) flight to San Francisco was forced to turn back to Chiang Kai Shek Interna-tional Airport late Thursday night after crew detected smoke streaming from one of its engines, a company executive said yesterday.

The incident comes just over a week after one of the airline's cargo planes made an emergency landing in Pakistan due to faulty equipment but yet amid words of praise for the company's progress on air safety from the government.

No crew or passengers were hurt in either incident.

Samson Yeh (葉又青), vice president of flight safety for China Airlines, told the Taipei Times that 20 minutes after taking off at 10:30pm, the crew of Flight CI004 to San Francisco detected that engine three on the right side of the plane was consuming oil at an "abnormally high" rate.

Upon inspection the crew spotted white smoke streaming from the engine of the Boeing 747-400.

"The moment the visual confirmation of the smoke was made, the crew initiated an engine shutdown, dumped fuel and returned to CKS to land," Yeh said.

Yeh said the crew did not declare an emergency as flying on three engines is considered "normal procedure" under such conditions.

The airplane, which was carrying around 300 people, landed safely at around midnight, said Yeh, who added that a reason for the high oil burn rate and smoke was yet to be determined and inspections were ongoing.

The passengers stayed over night at an airport hotel and departed yesterday morning at around 10am for San Francisco aboard another China Airlines flight, said company executives.

This incident follows the aborted flight of a China Airlines Boeing 747-400 cargo freighter on Aug. 13, when a faulty smoke detector indicated smoke in the craft's main cargo deck, Yeh said.

The flight, from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emigrates to Bangkok, Thailand was forced to make an emergency landing at Karachi international airport, where once on the ground the crew discovered there was in fact no smoke and that the gauge was faulty, Yeh said.

Since 1994, a total of 463 passengers and crew have died in China Airlines' crashes.

The most recent incident was in August 1999 when an MD-11 flipped on landing at Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok International Airport, killing three passengers.

Since a management reshuffle in the middle of last year following a change in government administration -- which holds a 71-percent stake in the company -- the company has made improving its flight safety a priority.

New China Airlines CEO Christine Tsung (宗才怡) has forced greater transparency in operations and encouraged total openness in dealing with air safety.

And despite the latest incidents, Kay Yong (戎凱) managing director of the Cabinet-level Aviation Safety Council which oversees investigations into aviation incidents, believes the new management at the airline has made progress.

"CAL is trying very, very hard and certainly they are making tremendous progress compared to three years ago," he said.

Yong said the company is now much more willing to share information on airline incidents, which is required and generally acknowledged as necessary by foreign regulatory bodies to help prevent serious accidents.

Yong has also detected a significant change in attitude among the air crew towards embracing the concept of air safety and shrugging off the so-called cowboy mentality of the many former air force fighter pilots China Airlines employs.

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