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.