MCO Monitoring Airport Weeks After Diverted Flight Dumps Fuel on Runway

Jul 27, 2019

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Orlando International Airport (MCO) employees are continuing to monitor one of its longest runways for damage as a result of a massive fuel spill that occurred in late June.

Last month, Norwegian Air flight DI7058, an Airbus A340 operated by Hi Fly, erroneously dumped a large amount of jet fuel on one of the airport’s runways following an unplanned diversion shortly after takeoff from MCO. The plane was bound for London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) and had enough fuel on-board for the more than 4300-mile flight from Orlando to London.

Shortly after takeoff — roughly an hour into the flight — the crew reported issues with the aircraft’s hydraulics and turned back towards Orlando. With the aircraft having traveled just a few hundred miles, the aircraft was overweight and began the process of fuel jettison, more commonly referred to as fuel dumping.

The flight path of Norwegian Air flight DI7508 (Image via Flightradar24)
The flight path of Norwegian Air flight DI7058 (Image via Flightradar24)

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the A340 dumped jet fuel on nearly 84% of the runway, covering 10,000 of the 12,000-foot runway — the equivalent “nearly of nine football fields.” The runway was closed for up to 12 hours following the incident.

While the airport began to clean up the spill shortly after the aircraft returned to Orlando, officials told the Sentinel that there is still the possibility that the runway may have been damaged during the incident. Now, the airport is reportedly monitoring the runway several times per day to check for damage as a result of the massive fuel spill.

Hi Fly Airbus A340 operating as Norwegian Air is seen dumping fuel upon arrival in Orlando. (Image courtesy of Judy Watson Tracy on Facebook)
Hi Fly Airbus A340 operating as Norwegian Air is seen dumping fuel upon arrival in Orlando. (Image courtesy of Judy Watson Tracy on Facebook)

Jet Fuel’s Effect on a Runway

Jet fuel is a term used to describe any fuel used to power jet or turbine-powered aircraft. The three most commonly used jet fuels are Jet A, Jet A-1 and Jet B. Jet A-1 is used at airports outside of the United States and Canada, while Jet B fuel is occasionally used in cold climates. The fuel found onboard was likely Jet A fuel.

Jet A fuel dispersed over concrete and asphalt, which according to the aeronautical navigation website AirNav is what the runway in question (runway 18R/36L) is made of, does not pose an immediate threat to the structural integrity of either material. However, over time, petroleum-based fuels have the capability of degrading both concrete and asphalt.

According to Asphalt Magazine, asphalt, which is a petroleum-based material, is especially susceptible to damage from fuel spills, as it can absorb fuel and begin to soften. The degradation of the asphalt can lead to further damage down the line.

Officials from the airport note that the jet fuel was not limited to the runway. The airport had to excavate and remove grass and soil that bordered the contaminated runway.

Jet fuel poses a health risk, in particular to respiratory health. To avoid environmental damage and injury to those on the ground, jet fuel is usually dumped over water or at higher altitudes away from major communities. It is unclear if surrounding areas and neighborhoods were impacted by the improper fuel jettison procedure.

Orlando International Airport is billing Norwegian Air and Hi Fly for runway damage following an incident in which one of the airport's runways was covered in jet fuel. (Image by Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orlando International Airport is billing Norwegian Air and Hi Fly for runway damage following an incident in which one of the airport’s runways was covered in jet fuel. (Image by Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

According to the Sentinel, the airport was forced to use a 30-person crew to address the massive fuel spill, consisting of airport employees, employees from aviation fueling companies, and an emergency contractor. The fuel spill was cleaned up using powder and vacuum trucks. The airport intends to bill Norwegian Air and Hi Fly for the damage caused by the erroneous fuel dump.

Under Investigation

It is not clear why the pilots continued to dump fuel upon landing. In a statement to TPG, a spokesperson for Norwegian Air said the following:

“Since this incident occurred with Hi-Fly’s aircraft and pilots, I can only refer you to Hi-Fly. Or MCO for the airport-related questions. Norwegian is of course cooperating with both Hi-Fly and the airport in the ongoing investigation, but cannot comment on their behalf.”

Neither MCO nor Hi Fly returned TPG‘s request for comment at time of publication.

Norwegian Air has been using a wet-leased Airbus A340 from Hi Fly for the past few months as a result of on-going inspections with the airline’s own fleet of Boeing 787s. In the statement to TPG, Norwegian Air noted plans to reintroduce a Boeing 787 on flights between Orlando and London on October 27, 2019.

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