El Al - Daniel Bar-On - 04012012
An El Al passenger jet. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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An El Al passenger jet flying from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt last month lost two tons of fuel in the course of the flight due to a leak that went undetected until just shortly before landing. When a fuel leak of this magnitude is detected during flight, the pilots usually turn off the engine to keep it from catching fire and land in the nearest available airfield.

The details are from the investigation report by the Transportation Ministry's chief investigator, Itzhak Raz, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz. The investigation was completed on Tuesday.

El Al flight LY 357 on December 7, 2011 carried 122 passengers, three pilots and a flight crew of five. During the flight, the right-side engine of the Boeing 737-800 began leaking oil, a fact that was not noticed until the aircraft was nearly at its destination.

The Transportation Ministry's incident investigators later determined that the cause of the leak was an improperly installed sealing ring in the fuel line of the right engine. In their report the investigators criticized the flight crew for failing to report the incident as a security incident, as required by law.

They also criticized what they termed the standard practice of recording safety incidents, including serious ones, as operational incidents requiring a lower standard of investigation.

The third pilot on the flight was a pilot examiner, who after the incident voluntarily disqualified himself from continuing to act in that capacity at El Al.

According to Raz, the pilots should have detected the fuel leak much earlier in the course of the flight. He pointed to a combination of factors in this failure, including a lack of teamwork among the flight crew, the policy in place for manually monitoring the balance of fuel among the aircraft's fuel tanks and the procedures governing the conduct of a flight crew including a pilot examiner.

Among the measures Raz recommended to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents were to consider appointing safety chiefs, a review and update of operating procedures for an expanded flight crew and establishing guidelines for revisions to the flight plan in the event of changes in the quantities of fuel reserves for each type of aircraft.