Fact Check

The Tale of the Arab Flight Crew

Photographs show an Airbus 340 that crashed into a wall during engine testing after technicians overrode a safety feature?

Published Sept. 9, 2008


Claim:   Photographs show an Airbus 340 that crashed into a wall during engine testing after technicians overrode a safety feature.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2008]


The brand spanking new Airbus 340-600, the largest passenger airplane ever built, sat in its hangar in Toulouse, France without a single hour of airtime. Enter the Arab flight crew of Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) to conduct pre-delivery tests on the ground, such as engine runups, prior to delivery to Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi.

The ADAT crew taxied the A340-600 to the run-up area. Then they took all four engines to takeoff power with a virtually empty aircraft. Not having read the run-up manuals, they had no clue just how light an empty A340-600 really is.

The takeoff warning horn was blaring away in the cockpit because they had all 4 engines at full power.

The aircraft computers thought they were trying to takeoff but it had not been configured properly (flaps/slats, etc.). Then one of the ADAT crew decided to pull the circuit breaker on the Ground Proximity Sensor to silence the alarm. This fools the aircraft into thinking it is in the air. The computers automatically released all the brakes and set the aircraft rocketing forward.

The ADAT crew had no idea that this is a safety feature so that pilots can't land with the brakes on.

Not one member of the seven-man Arab crew was smart enough to throttle back the engines from their max power setting, so the $200 million brand-new aircraft crashed into a blast barrier, totalling it.

The extent of injuries to the crew is unknown, for there has been a news blackout in the major media in France and elsewhere.

Coverage of the story was deemed insulting to Moslem Arabs.

Finally, the photos are starting to leak out. Airbus $200 million aircraft meets retaining wall and the wall wins....

Now look at the photos!

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Origins:   The photographs displayed above do represent the aftermath an Airbus 340 engine test that ended in a ground collision, but unconfirmed, pejorative information has been added to the accompanying text

which describes the circumstances of the accident.

On 15 November 2007, a four-engine Airbus A340-600 (which is not actually "the largest passenger airplane ever built") in the process of being delivered to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways was undergoing ground engine testing at the Airbus Technical Center in Toulouse, France. During those tests, the aircraft somehow broke loose and crashed into the test-pen wall as pictured above. According to press reports, nine people — two Airbus employees and seven employees of Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT), a service provider contracted by Etihad — were aboard the airliner at the time, and four of them were injured. (It is not true, as claimed, that there was "a news blackout in the major media in France and elsewhere" because "coverage of the story was deemed insulting to Moslem Arabs.")

Although the accident did occur while ground engine tests were being conducted with the plane's parking brake applied, a report released by French investigators in December 2008 (translated into English here) did not identify the cause of the crash to be ADAT technicians who were unfamiliar with the aircraft and overrode a vital safety feature:

French investigators have found that an Airbus to be delivered to Etihad Airways crashed during ground engine tests because the wheels were unchocked and attempts to steer away from a wall had decreased brake pressure.

A 30-page report released by the Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA) said the four Trent 500 engines, carrying 56,000 pounds of thrust each, were being tested at high power and the wheels were left unchocked.

"Surprise led the ground-test technician to focus on the braking system, so he did not think about reducing the engines' thrust," said the report.

"It was all over in 13 seconds," said David Kaminski-Morrow, an editor at Air Transport Intelligence. "The aeroplane shouldn't haven been running with engines at higher power and the aeroplane should have had chocks on the wheels to stop [it] moving, and these things didn't happen. It was basically a schoolboy error."

"The report does not say who made the decision to put the aeroplane in the position which led to the accident in the first place. What part ADAT played and what part Airbus made is not publicly clear," Mr Kaminski-Morrow said.

"This will probably be the subject of Airbus internal inquiries. But I find it hard to believe suddenly all the rules got broken because ADAT came along. It was at the Airbus headquarters, it was an Airbus test pen, it was an Airbus engineer at the right-hand seat, which the report said is where control inputs were coming from. An ADAT engineer was in the left seat."

In the run-up to the accident, the full-power engine test with wheels unchocked was testing the limits of the parking brake. As the aircraft began to move, an ADAT engineer reported the aircraft was moving. According to the flight recorder, at that point the pedal brake was applied and the parking brake deactivated, said Mr Kaminski-Morrow. Finally, the steering wheel was turned to avoid crashing into the test-pen wall, but that had the opposite effect as it instead reduced the braking pressure.

As noted in that report, an Airbus technician who occupied the right-hand seat in the cockpit was in charge of the ground testing; an aeronautical technician from an independent maintenance company (GAMCO) and an Airbus flight test engineer (who occupied the left-hand cockpit seat and jump seat, respectively) "had no specific function in the aircraft handling." After the aircraft's engines were restarted for a run at high power in an attempt to find the origin of some oil leaks, the GAMCO technician called the plane's forward motion to the attention of the Airbus technician, and it was the latter who acted on the airplane's brake pedals and then released the parking brake.

Last updated:   19 January 2013


    Gale, Ivan.   "'Unsecured Wheels' Caused Airbus Crash."

    The [Abu Dhabi] National.   21 December 2008.

    Associated Press.   "Emirates Carrier Denies Airbus Injuries."

    ABC News.   17 November 2007.

    BBC News.   "France Investigates Airbus Crash."

    16 November 2007.

    Forbes.   "Airbus A340 Involved in Ground Collision During Engine Testing."

    16 November 2007.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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