British Airways plane plagued by mysterious fumes on five flights

The cause behind a strange odour that was smelt onboard a British Airways plane on five separate flights remains a mystery.

Aircraft G-YMMU, a Boeing 777, was investigated by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) after it experienced similar incidents five times from June to August 2019.

The most extreme was on 3 July during a service from London Heathrow to Bengaluru Kempegowda International Airport in India.

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There were three pilots onboard, all of whom reported smelling an “organic cheesy, oily” odour with a metallic taste on the flight deck shortly after take-off.

The intensity increased as the aircraft ascended above 2,000ft and the co-pilot put on an oxygen mask, according to the report.

Having confirmed with a senior member of cabin crew that they could smell the fumes too, the commander and third pilot also donned oxygen masks too and discussed whether the plane needed to make an emergency landing.

As the fumes had not been detected in the cabin, the decision was made to jettison fuel in order to make the aircraft lighter for landing.

The aircraft touched down safely at Heathrow, although by the time it landed, crew reported smelling fumes on the left side of the cabin at the front of the plane.

According to the AAIB report, “Despite extensive engineering investigation by the operator prior to returning the aircraft to service, at the time of publication, the source of the fumes has not been found.”

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Similar fumes had been detected on two occasions prior, once on 29 June 2019 on the final approach to land at Heathrow following a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, the other on the return to London Heathrow from Cairo, Egypt on 1 July.

During the former, pilots smelt an “oily” odour but said it was not bad enough to warrant oxygen masks. On the latter service, crew smelt “diesel fumes” and both pilots donned oxygen masks and described experiencing a “dry, tickly throat”.

There were also two further incidents subsequently on 8 and 17 August.

Neither of these events required the use of oxygen: on 8 August the crew detected oily fumes during takeoff which dissipated shortly after; on 17 August the co-pilot detected a “wet dog” or “sock” smell on the flight deck that lasted for about a minute.

A British Airways spokesperson told The Independent: “We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed any health or safety risk to our customers or crew.     

“Research commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency, in 2017 concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments.

“We always encourage our colleagues to tell us about any concerns they have, with reports passed onto the Civil Aviation Agency. Safety is our first priority and every report is thoroughly investigated, with typically 151 engineering checks before an aircraft is cleared to continue flying.”

They added that fume or odour events have been found to be caused by a wide range of issues, including burnt food in the oven, aerosols and e-cigarettes, strong-smelling food in cabin bags, and de-icing fluid.

The AAIB report contained no actions or recommendations for the airline.

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