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air safety

Mar 1, 2014

Etihad’s Brisbane jet emergency caused by wasp infestation

What is it about Brisbane Airport, Airbus A330s, and mud daubing wasps that could cause airlines to stock up on insecticide for walk around pre-flight inspections?

Brisbane's mud dauber wasp, plus raw materials: Credit BrisbaneInsects.com

An Etihad A330 that called Mayday before making an emergency landing at Brisbane Airport last November suffered from an undetected wasp infestation blocking a crucial externally mounted air speed measuring pitot.

It was the second time since 2006 that such an incident has happened at the airport, the first involving a Qantas A330 that blew most of its tyres after coming to an emergency stop after deciding to abort a take-off.

A graphic account of the incident appears in the Aviation Herald, while the ATSB interim report provides a lay friendly insight into the mechanics of the pitots used on the A330 as well as detailing the earlier attempt by the Etihad jet to take off, which was abandoned before it then took off and experienced the in-flight emergency in which the pilots lost all of their airspeed readings.

The ATSB report on the 2006 wasp pitot incident on a Qantas 330 can be read here.

Wasp infections in pitots have caused at least two air crash disasters, a Florida Commuter Airlines DC-3 crash in 1980 which killed 34 people, and the infamous loss of Birgenair’s only jet, a Boeing 757, in the sea near the Dominican Republic in 1996, killing all 189 people on board.  Both those incidents can be studied by following the links on this Wikipedia page.

One of the surprising things not mentioned about the Etihad incident is the apparent speed with which the wasps clogged one of its pitot tubes.  It had arrived in Brisbane from Singapore only two hours before it first attempted to fly back to Abu-Dhabi via Singapore, and no anomalies had been detected on the inbound flight.

However a web site which deals with Brisbane’s insects includes detailed studies and progress photos of its mud-dauber wasps at work, and says that it takes them around two week’s to make significant nests.

Something akin to speed dating seems to be going on between mud-dauber wasps and Airbus A330s in general.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “Etihad’s Brisbane jet emergency caused by wasp infestation

  1. michael r james

    Now Ben, you’re not suggesting malfeasance on the part of Queenslanders? Playing mud patty-cakes with Etihad plumbing?

    Nah, just like those other trouble spots of Florida and Dominican Republic, our airport is built on a tropical mangrove swamp. In fact I believe the new runway is on top of the (once) Cribb Island/Nuggee Creek; in fact I think it may be right on top of the BeeGees old house. They may even be contemplating putting a gold star in the tarmac to mark the spot (though probably too much to expect the remaining two boys to return to leave their handprints in the concrete?)

    The fact is that while they have got rid of all human life, the non-human kind is more persistent. As a kid I used to go fishing in a tinny at Cribb Island–terrific mudcrabs and flathead.

  2. comet

    Australian officials are world famous for walking around aeroplanes spraying cans of insecticide everywhere.

    It’s just that they do it on the inside, not the outside.

    It’ll be interesting to see what changes this incident brings to the procedures at Brisbane airport. Pitot covers put on immediately after landing? Wasp officers to check the pitots before each flight?

  3. crystals76

    its already begun Nov-Jul pitot covers on aircraft (incl on tail) on the ground over 3 hours dueing daylight hours

  4. comet

    But the Etihad plane was on the ground less than 2 hours, and the wasps got in.

  5. Tango

    The real issue is taking off with one of the pitot system off line.

    Who in their pea picking mind would consider a Pitot an optional item?

    Two crashes and various incidents are not enough?

    If one fails in flight thats one thing, but to start with a kaput one is purely wrong and needs to be corrected.

  6. comet

    It appears the Etihad Brisbane incident could have easily resulted in another pitot related crash, just like Air France flight 447 and Birgenair flight 301.

    The pilots declared a mayday. They didn’t dump fuel, and instead landed hard and overweight. They must have wanted to get back on the ground. Fast.

    Does this look like a maintenance problem?

    Reading the report, the maintenance people in Brisbane disengaged one of the air data inertial reference unit (ADIRU), so the flight was operating with only two ADIRUs instead of three.

    The report says nothing as to whether maintenance staff cleared the wasp gunk from the captain’s pitot before the second attempted takeoff.

  7. Sunny Chaplin

    I was on this flight, I watched the engineers changing the ADIRUs, even spoke to the first officer about what had happened. A interesting experience!