Skip to main content

An incident last year that saw a jet operated by Sunwing Airlines Inc. strike a 36-centimetre-high light beyond the runway and fly low for four kilometres carried potentially “catastrophic” consequences after a pilot typed in the wrong temperature, investigators said.

The Boeing Co. 737 lifted off at the “extreme end” of a runway in Belfast after the autopilot determined the takeoff speed based on a temperature of -52 C, rather than 16 C, according to a report by the U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

The aircraft, which took off with 185 passengers en route to the Greek island of Corfu from Belfast International Airport on July 21, 2017, avoided a crash and “multiple fatalities” largely because of the low terrain and lack of obstacles surrounding the airport, the report states.

Investigators noted the onboard software was incapable of alerting the flight crew of the temperature error, though updated versions would have caught it. The flight crew only became aware of an issue with the acceleration as the plane approached the end of the runway, according to the report Wednesday.

The investigative body recommended airlines upgrade their software — available at “nominal cost” — on the Boeing 737 so that it crosschecks information punched into the onboard computer with temperature sensors.

The report also suggests the introduction of safety systems to warn pilots of unusually low acceleration and altitude, and recommends that Boeing notify all 737 operators of the incident as well as “previous similar occurrences.”

Sunwing, based in Toronto, said it has already implemented software and training updates.

The airline said it suspended both pilots from flying duties until the preliminary investigation ended. They underwent further training and Transport Canada re-qualification and have returned to full duty, Sunwing said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe