Screwdriver tip left in engine during maintenance results in blade failure on take-off

Damage from screwdriver

Key points

  • Engine surge and power loss occurred due to damage caused by replaceable screwdriver tip being left in the engine during maintenance;
  • Tool control is an important part of aircraft maintenance, even for seemingly insignificant components;
  • Incident is a reminder that engine failures can create unusual sounds and vibrations that can’t be easily replicated in simulator training.

 

An engine power loss and rejected take-off incident involving an Airbus A320 at Brisbane Airport occurred after a screwdriver tip was left inside the engine during maintenance, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation notes.

On 23 October 2020, the Jetstar Airways operated A320 was departing on a scheduled passenger flight from Brisbane to Cairns.

As power was being applied for take-off, the crew felt a vibration and heard a popping noise, which rapidly grew faster and louder. At the same time, the aircraft diverged to the right of the runway centreline despite the first officer applying full left rudder pedal.

The captain immediately selected reverse thrust and brought the aircraft to a stop.

Some of the passengers onboard the aircraft, a Brisbane tower air traffic controller, and flight crew of a following aircraft reported momentarily seeing flames coming out of the right engine.

The aircraft was taxied back to the airport gate, and all passengers and crew disembarked safely.

Engineers then reported finding metallic debris in the tailpipe of the aircraft’s right engine. On disassembly, it was discovered the engine’s high-pressure compressor had sustained significant damage. A removable screwdriver tip was found in the engine’s combustion section.

The ATSB’s investigation determined the screwdriver tip had been in the engine for over 100 flights.

“The ATSB concluded the tool bit had been left in the engine after maintenance and when the engine was running, it entered the high-pressure compressor, leaving dents and nicks in numerous rotor blades and stator vanes,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod.

“At least two of these dents and nicks initiated fatigue cracks, which developed during the aircraft’s subsequent operation, and led to a blade failing during the incident flight’s take-off roll.”

The liberated blade then caused greater damage to the engine’s high pressure compressor, and the engine surged, resulting in the loss of power and the low-speed rejected take-off, said Mr Macleod.

“Tool control is an important part of maintenance processes. Small and seemingly insignificant tool components can, and have, caused significant incidents or accidents.”

Mr Macleod said the incident was also a good example of why flight crews need to be aware that the noise and vibration from an actual engine failure may be greater than, or different to, that experienced during simulator training.

“High-fidelity training devices like full motion flight simulators aim to maximise the realism of an artificial environment, but there is a limit to their ability to replicate extreme events.”

Read the report: Engine power loss and low-speed rejected take-off involving Airbus A320-232, registered VH-VFF, Brisbane Airport, Queensland, on 23 October 2020.

Last update 16 August 2021

Read final report

Engine power loss and low speed rejected take off, involving Airbus A320-232, registered VH-VFF Brisbane Airport, Queensland, on 23 October 2020