Drama unfolded at Piarco International airport early yesterday morning when a Caribbean Airlines (CAL) newly acquired ATR 72-600 (BW 300) with 44 passengers and four crew aboard had to return yesterday after a section of the plane's exterior panelling peeled away shortly after take-off at 6.49. The flight destined for Caracas, Venezuela returned to Piarco and landed safely at 7.15 am.
Clint Williams, CAL's corporate communications manager, said no one was hurt in the incident. The plane was one of the airline's new ART 72-600s built in France. Asked what caused the siding to become detached, Williams said: "At this point I am in no position to say, but there will be an investigation."
The incident, Williams said, resulted in the airport being closed for approximately two hours and some flight delays. Williams was unable to say exactly how many flights were delayed. The airline, however, provided an alternative flight which left Piarco at 10.30 am headed to Caracas. WIlliams said all 44 passengers boarded the flight without hesitation.
He gave the assurance that the flight backlog caused by the incident was cleared and the airline's operations were back to normal.
A release sent to the T&T Guardian via e-mail said: "The passengers and crew deplaned and were transported to the terminal where passengers were offered refreshments as they awaited the resumption of their flight. In keeping with safety protocols, the captain switched off the engines on landing and upon authorisation from the T&T Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA), CAL removed the aircraft from its final position on the runway.
"The aircraft is at the Caribbean Airlines facility where it has undergone an initial inspection as part of an investigation into the event. No other damage to the aircraft has been noted." Yesterday Caribbean Airlines Ltd chairman Rabindra Moonan confirmed that an investigation has been initiated into why flight BW300 bound for Caracas had to return to T&T yesterday morning.
Moonan confirmed in an interview that by Tuesday he will be able to get a preliminary report into the incident. He told the T&T Guardian: "The plane developed a fault with a panel, there were some technical difficulties with a panel. It (the aircraft) was in the air for six minutes and seven seconds. It returned to Piarco for emergency landing.
Everything went well with the landing. Passengers disembarked. They took the plane to the hangar for inspection and the passengers left on a later flight. There were no ontoward incidents with the passengers. Right now, we have launched an investigation into the circumstances," he said.
Asked what cost this incident would be to CAL, he said: "It is most unfair to ask that because we do not have a register running to say that one or two hours there is a cost attached. It is a question which I cannot answer or not venture to answer," he said.
Dyanand Birju, Acting General Manager, Aiports Authority said operations resumed at the airport around 8.25 am yesterday after the incident. "The situation was managed according to our standards and safety procedures and things returned to normal at approximately 8. 25 this morning (yesterday)," he said.
An initial order for nine Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) 72-600 planes was made in 2010 to the tune of US$200 million. The plane, which was said to be configured to seat 68 passengers and to provide a higher standard of comfort, was added to CAL's domestic route.
There were also reports in February of mechanical problems with the ATRs which led former CAL chairman George Nicholas to announce that the aircraft was not working properly. In June 2012 it was discovered that CAL was looking to sell four of the nine ATRs ordered.
The third ATR aircraft purchased by the airline was delivered in August this year. Four ATRs are currently part of CAL's fleet and a fifth is due to be added next month. Moonan said in a meeting in Tobago that the ATRs will be used to replace the airline's aging Dash 8 aircraft. On July 31 last year, CAL's flight BW523 from New York slid off the runway after touching down in Georgetown, Guyana in bad weather.
The plane, a Boeing 737-800, crashed through a fence at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and broke in two coming to rest just short of a ravine. There were 157 passengers and six crew members, all of whom survived. One man later had to have a leg amputated as a result of his injuries.
The preliminary findings of an investigation by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, released earlier this year, suggested the pilot might have undertaken a "long landing" but did not have enough space to bring the aircraft to a safe stop.