Saturday, February 26, 2005

Eurosceptics: Is There Nothing That Doesn't Look Like a Straight Banana?

Over on the BNN, our dear colleague Richard North runs with a scare story regarding the European directive on compensation to air passengers in the event of delays. Apparently
"On the basis of what we know, however, the commission, despite its obsession for "consumer protection" should perhaps have named its new directive: "denied safety"."
Terror! Evil Eurocrats bring jets crashing on your head! What he seems to mean with this is that perhaps, if they have to pay more compo to passengers if the flight doesn't leave, airlines might decide to fly when it would be safer not to. This is a serious charge; he gives in evidence the recent diversion to Manchester of a BA Boeing 747 that suffered an engine failure on take-off from Los Angeles and continued on three engines, alleging that the decision to continue was taken for commercial reasons. This is an even more serious charge, and one which is not sustained by evidence.

It is actually not that uncommon for 4-engined commercial aircraft to continue to destination after an engine failure. Except in the case of a common mode failure (that is, one that might affect other engines), which it wasn't, there is no reason why a second failure would be any more likely after the first. As the 747 can operate on 3 engines and land on 2, as long as the aircraft remains within reasonable range of diversion airfields there is little to worry about. In fact, it basically becomes a 767 or 777 for planning purposes. (In fact worse; 777s are permitted to operate up to 3 hours away from diversions, with two engines to start with.) The problem is, though, that flying at lower altitude with greater drag and perhaps on a longer route means using more fuel; this is what led to the diversion to Manchester, as well as the fact they were unable to get a more efficient flight level from Air Traffic Control part way across the Atlantic.

Quoting a report in the Times, he claims that a return to LAX would have cost some £100,000 in compensation. He does not make clear if this was in addition to the pre-directive cost, whether it is over and above the costs of the unscheduled landing or including them, or what the extra cost of making repairs at LAX rather than at BA's maintenance base would be. In the print edition, the story is accompanied by a photo showing a 747 apparently resting on its belly - this is either an unrelated photograph, or one taken from a misleading angle as this did not happen. It seems clear that the Times decided to take this as an anti-EU hit piece and hang the facts. And so did our man.

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