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    Report: Qatar Airways fires pilots involved in Miami takeoff incident

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    For illustrative purposes only.
    For illustrative purposes only.

    Qatar Airways has apparently sacked the pilots responsible for substantially damaging a Boeing 777 when it struck a set of runway lights during takeoff from Miami in September.

    A preliminary investigation determined that the aircraft entered the runway at an incorrect intersection, rather than using its full length. This meant the runway was too short for the heavily loaded plane to safely take off.

    As a result, the aircraft only became airborne at the very end of the runway.

    Photos of damage to aircraft and approach lights in Miami
    Photos of damage to aircraft and approach lights in Miami

    The collision with the approach lights – located approximately 60m from the end of the runway – caused a 46-centimeter tear in the fuselage behind the rear cargo door, as well as 90 dents and scratches and some damage to a metal landing gear guard.

    At the time of the incident, there were four members of the flight crew in the cockpit: the captain, first officer and two relief pilots.

    ‘First and last’ incident

    Earlier today, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that all of the pilots on the flight deck that day had been fired.

    Qatar Airways Sydney launch
    Qatar Airways Sydney launch

    Asked about their termination at a press conference this week, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the incident was the “first and last” time something like this would happen.

    He also did not dispute the claim about the pilots:

    “We will not accept any kind of lapses by pilots because they have hundreds of passengers whom they risked,” he was quoted as saying to reporters while marking the carrier’s inaugural Doha-Sydney flight.

    “(The pilot flying) was not asked to leave because he did anything by putting passengers at risk. What he did was he violated the company regulations on takeoff distance required by an aircraft, especially with the weight he was carrying on that aircraft.”

    A spokesperson for Qatar Airways was unable to immediately clarify what disciplinary action the pilots faced.

    Blame game

    Al Baker has previously played down the seriousness of the incident. At a media event in the US in December, he was quoted as blaming Miami’s air traffic controllers for giving the Qatar Airways pilot incorrect instructions.

    He had also said the entire affair “was only an unfortunate incident. At no time was the aircraft or the passengers put in any harms way.”

    Others, however, have speculated that the incident could have resulted in a serious disaster had it occurred at another airport where buildings located at the end of the runway could have caused more significant damage to the plane.

    Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority stated in December that its preliminary investigation was not intended to assign any blame.

    Photo for illustrative purposes only.
    Photo for illustrative purposes only.

    It attributed the incident to miscommunication among the crew, but also said errors were made by the captain.

    The report suggested that the crew knew they needed to use the full length of the runway.

    However, it added that they may have become confused because both the runway intersection as well as the temporary runway rating coincidentally shared the designation “T1,” even though the label meant different things in either context.

    A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority told Doha News that a final report into the incident has not yet been released.

    Thoughts?

    Peter Kovessy
    Peter Kovessy is a reporter with Doha News. Prior to moving to Qatar in 2013, he was the editor of the Ottawa Business Journal in Canada. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University.

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