Flight tracking of Caribbean Airways BW-434 from Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago) to Saint Lucia George F. L. Charles (SLU). Flight Aware graphics
By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — On July 9, 2017, a Caribbean Airlines ATR-72 flying from Port of Spain in Trinidad to Saint Lucia with 68 people on board, was on its approach to George F.L. Charles Airport (SLU), the smaller of Saint Lucia’s airports, when the crew decided to divert to Hewanorra Airport (UVF), the larger international airport, reporting an engine fire indication about eight minutes prior to landing.
The crew shut the engine down, activated the fire suppression and landed safely at Hewanorra about 20 minutes after aborting the approach to SLU, the Aviation Herald reported.
According to a passenger on the flight, they had almost arrived at George F.L. Charles Airport when the crew announced the fire indication and decided to divert. The passengers were instructed to brace and were in that position for about five minutes.
On Saturday, July 15, the airline reported there had been no engine fire, just an indication.
However, according to an airworthiness directive issued by Transport Canada, which is the airworthiness authority for Canada, where the Pratt & Whitney PW100 series turboprop engines used in the ATR-72 are manufactured, an unsafe condition may exist on such engines. All PW100 model engines are equipped with two gas generator case drain ports. This condition, if not corrected, can result in a nacelle fire caused by fluid leaking from the gas generator case drain.
A veteran pilot and aviation expert questioned the pilot’s decision to abort the approach to the closest airport (SLU) in favour of diverting to Hewanorra, speculating that this may have been because it would have been logistically more convenient for the airline to fly in a replacement engine to Hewanorra if needed or, as sometimes happens, to accommodate a greater number of passengers waiting at UVF.
“If this was the reason, the captain should lose his licence because he never should have made convenience or airline revenue a priority over passenger safety,” he said.
More importantly, the Flight Aware flight tracking of BW-434 shows some very disturbing vectors or turns towards deep water off the west coast of Saint Lucia rather staying close to land.
“It is not clear why an airline transport pilot (ATP) would consider so many unwarranted turns or maneuvers with an indication of a critical engine condition. Standard operating procedure dictates that, in the case of an engine out, the pilot should find the nearest suitable airport to land, and in this incident he was already on his approach path to SLU so it made no sense to divert to Hewanorra,” he added.
Based on available flight tracking information, BW-434 arrived at longitude -61.2067 and latitude 13.3702 – what is considered in aviation as top of the decent attitude at 17,000 feet on Sunday, July 9, at 14:42:03 pm. The aircraft descended for approximately 12.18 minutes at a rapid rate that exceeded the normal 500 feet per minute descent rate for passenger comfort. At 14:54:11 pm the aircraft abruptly climbed to 4,000 feet, followed by what appears to be numerous unexplained radical turns away from land.
“Although the airplane is equipped with an auto-feather system to prevent aerodynamic drag, the four main factors that become important when only one engine is turning were apparently ignored by the pilot flying (PF), based on the excessive radical turns shown on the Flight Aware data,” the expert explained.
He also questioned the standard of maintenance performed by Caribbean Airlines since the airline’s ATR fleet has been plagued with similar engine fire indications. The latest incident in Saint Lucia is seventh such event reported since October 2015.
“In summary, considering the foregoing, and Caribbean Airlines’ extensive history of ATR-72/PW100s in flight engine shut-down dating back to December 14, 2015, the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA) and the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) should conduct an objective investigation in the airline’s maintenance practices and pilot training skills,” he concluded.
However, neither the TTCAA nor the ECCAA responded to requests for comment.
Dionne Ligoure, head of corporate communications at Caribbean Airlines in Trinidad, asked for more time to deal with a similar request for comment but, one week later, had failed to respond substantively.