News broke yesterday afternoon that a Delta 777 dumped fuel over several schools and homes in Los Angeles. What prompted this and was it justified?
Delta Engine Trouble Prompted Emergency Landing
Delta 89 from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) departed on-time from LAX on Tuesday. Shortly after takeoff, however, the 777-200 quickly made a U-turn and returned to the airport. The flight never climbed above 8,000 feet and was in the air for only about 25 minutes.
Delta blamed the issue on engine trouble:
“Shortly after takeoff, Delta flight 89 from LAX to Shanghai experienced an engine issue requiring the aircraft to return quickly to LAX.”
But rather than dumping fuel over the ocean at a higher altitude, as is standard protocol, the aircraft dumped fuel over densely populated South Central Los Angeles, showering homes, streets, and school children with pungent jet fuel.
70 paramedics and firefighters responded to the scene, treating nine adults and 17 children with minor injuries. The incident also prompted panic among many, who stepped outside to experience an acid rain-like phenomenon.
But Was Low-Altitude Fuel Dump Necessary?
Delta defended its fuel release:
“The aircraft landed safely after a release of fuel, which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight. We are in touch with Los Angeles World Airports and the LA County Fire Department and share concerns regarding reported minor injuries to adults and children at a school in the area.”
Now let’s be clear. No one thinks Delta “targeted” schools or any populated community with its jet fuel dump. I’m also willing to give the captain the benefit of the doubt until more details emerge.
But the incident certainly raises questions.
In a statement about the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration also questioned the specific circumstances surrounding the dump:
“There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major U.S. airport. These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground.”
I’ve asked Delta for clarification on this matter and thus far, it is sticking to its statement above. Perhaps it is too early to weigh in, but Delta owes all of us–and especially Los Angeles residents like myself–an explanation as to what sort of dire emergency prompted what circumstantially appears to be a rushed landing.
Standard protocol if an engine goes out is to dump fuel over the ocean or other sparsely populated area at a higher altitude, calmly go through the emergency landing checklist, then land. Did the flight crew get a little panicked on this flight?
It is heartening news that no one was seriously injured by the fuel dump yesterday over Los Angeles. Now it is time to ask why that fuel dump was necessary.