Breaking News: BA B-777ER Windshield Hit By Ice From Higher-Flying Aircraft

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A chunk of ice from a same-direction aircraft 1,000 feet higher is blamed for cracking the windshield of a British Airways Boeing 777ER. Operating as flight BA-2237, the 22-year-old airliner was less than halfway through 11-hour, Dec. 23 flight from London Gatwick Airport to Costa Rica when the chunk of ice hit the captain-side windshield, a “one in a million” chance—according to a British Airways publicist. Fortunately, the impact did not compromise the inner, pressure-bearing pane of the windshield, keeping the aircraft’s pressure vessel uncompromised.

In fact, the crew determined it was safe to continue to the destination. But BA was unable to complete repairs or scramble a replacement aircraft for the passengers scheduled on the return flight headed to the U.K. and expecting to be home for Christmas Day. “We would like to send a heartfelt apology to the customers on this flight who have had their Christmas plans ruined,” BA wrote in a statement. “We will never fly an aircraft unless we feel it is completely safe to do so, and on this occasion, our engineers were unable to clear it to fly.”

Those passengers were eventually repatriated to the U.K. on Christmas day on a replacement aircraft, while G-YMMB, with its shiny new windshield, had to wait another day to make the non-revenue positioning flight back to Gatwick.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. “In fact, the crew determined it was safe to continue to the destination.”

    Oh, yikes. How, in fact, did the crew determine this?

    And if it was safe to continue to the destination, why didn’t the engineers say it was safe to fly back?

    I realize that, if you’re half way over the ocean, there’s probably no point in turning around in a situation like this. (Except possibly easier to fix it at home base.) But the report above says “less than half way.” So “Getthereitis”? (Presumably west winds would help return.)

    Whatever, I would be on pins and needles waiting for the windshield to explode. I mean, we’re really in uncharted territory here.

    I wonder if the crew put on masks? And eye protection? And ear plugs? And descended lower to minimize the effect of explosive decompression? (Payne Stewart.) And/or reduced cabin pressure – SLOWLY.

    What if they had to heat up the windshield for ice? Hit a bird?

    I think that I would want to get on the ground ASAP – even if it meant Havana.

    My adrenal glands would be 100 years older after a flight like this. Just thinking about it is aging them already.

    • Windshield cracks though not everyday occurrences do happen and are covered by checklist procedures. I’ve experienced three in various aircraft, none of which affected the inner plies constituting part of the pressure vessel. As in this case, the checklist procedures in addition to monitoring and avoiding icing if windshield heat was compromised called for continuation of flight. No it’s not a totally comfy feeling but that is when faith in part 25 certification standards and certified procedures apply.

    • Dear Glasair Pilot,

      Honest answers to honest questions:

      1. Different rules cover launching an airplane then cover maintaining flight.
      As a Glasair pilot, you would not have to be familiar with ETOPS, the special regulations regarding long twin engine over-water flights. However this eventuality is almost certainly covered, and it’s different from the rules that must be followed to launch an airplane that’s already on the ground.

      Furthermore, the increased fuel consumption at lower altitude would make descent impractical. And Landing short

      As to why they didn’t land short or turn around,

      • …the increased fuel consumption precludes the former, and if they land short (assuming an ETOPS alternate was closer than the destination) they will still have to descend through altitudes where they might hit a bird, and that alternate might be a place where repairs were difficult or impossible (eg Havana, although there are many other reasons for not landing in Havana – – unless something’s on fire, on the theory that being held in prison for the rest of your life is better than burning to death).

        At cruising altitudes they are safe enough from birds, and since obviously the checklist allows it, they might as well continue.

        As long as pressurization ratio doesn’t change, nothing will flex the glass more or less then it was, so it should be safe enough, unless of course the checklist demands otherwise.

        I’m sure one of them at least put on an oxygen mask, despite our current weariness of masks in general, ahem. Of course another ice chunk would be something to be worried about so I would be taking steps to ensure we were no longer directly in trail!

  2. Laminated safety glass is truly amazing stuff. I don’t know how an aircraft windshield is built, but I imagine it has more than just two layers. I’ve seen a two-layer laminated car windshield stop a flying shovel from penetrating into the car’s interior, so it is obviously pretty tough stuff. As for whether they should have flown on to the destination, the glass would undergo increased stress when changing altitude due to temperature and pressure changes. So, any descent would pose the same dangers, regardless of when it occurred. Continuing on at the same altitude and internal pressure was not likely to impose any more danger than had already occurred. I suspect the impact probably got the cockpit crew’s attention though. Literally a “bolt” out of the blue!

  3. Those that do, know this corner contains the power connections and therostat connections for the high power windshield heat and defog.

    Defog, inner, Deice, toward the outer glass layer.

    A defect can cause this and does. Correlation is not causation. There may have been a plane dropping ice, a piece of space junk, a weather balloon or meterorite above.

    But- it “hit” right at the windshield heat connections.

    If there is a frame impact evident on the exterior- then that’s the 1 in a billion smoking gun.

    • Now that you mention it, I do recall hearing about certain aircraft having windshields going opaque due to delamination caused by windshield heat. I vaguely recall something about not operating heat on the ground.

      I also recall a story by an Airline Captain about sparks at the connections you mention. He started his story by saying that, at first, he thought he was having a stroke, seeing intermittent flashes out of the corner of his eye.