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More Air Transat Problems

Tue Sep 11, 2001 1:51 am

I know this incident was mentioned earlier this weekend, but I thought people might be interested in this story from the Globe and Mail re panic on board the Toronto-Paris flight just prior to departure.

Transat halts flight after tank leaks fuel

Monday, September 10, 2001 – Page A5

Passengers aboard an Air Transat flight in Toronto panicked on the weekend, after they noticed fuel gushing out of their plane just moments before they were about to take off for Paris.

The incident was another public-relations disaster for an airline that has endured continuing publicity after one of its planes lost power over the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 24, forcing an emergency landing on an airstrip in the Azores. A fuel leak is the suspected cause.

Airline officials said flight TS 288 from Toronto to Paris could have flown safely on Saturday night if it weren't for the mayhem caused by worried passengers who noticed excess fluid squirting from an overfilled fuel tank in one of the plane's wings. "This happens regularly," said Sophie Lussier, a spokeswoman for the company. "But we understand their concern."

Simon Andrew, 38, was sitting near the centre of the Airbus A310 while it rolled across the tarmac at Pearson International Airport at about midnight. He said he smelled something like kerosene coming through the air conditioning when a man near a window stood up and started shouting.

"At first I thought it was just some crazy person," Mr. Andrew said. "But then more and more people started getting upset. I looked at the wing and it was like a two-inch jet, pouring out like rain."

The plane stopped and passengers transferred to another Air Transat flight that departed at 2:43 a.m. yesterday. Two fire trucks and airport ground crews dusted the fuel spill with absorbent powder and swept it up. The plane returned to regular service later that morning, Ms. Lussier said, and flew to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, without incident.

Last week, a senior Air Transat executive confirmed an earlier Globe and Mail report that a supervisor had told mechanics to install an engine on the plane that was forced to make an emergency landing, despite missing parts.

A couple of days later, Transport Canada hit the airline with a $250,000 fine for shoddy maintenance and ordered it to route its twin-engined jet aircraft closer to land.

The airline responded to the government's concerns this weekend, placing advertisements in Montreal newspapers announcing plans to hire nine safety inspectors across Canada. The inspectors must be certified airline mechanics with at least five years experience.

A spokesperson said the new employees will give the airline almost one inspector for each of its 24 aircraft. The number of inspectors isn't regulated by federal authorities.

"These are just part of the measures being taken to support our compliance with Transport Canada," Ms. Lussier said.

But the airline's reputation continued to erode on Friday after maintenance problems delayed two other flights by nine hours and five hours respectively.

After Mr. Andrew videotaped Saturday's fuel leak, he said television stations called his hotel room in Paris to offer him hundreds of dollars for the footage.

"There was quite a lot of mayhem on that plane."

Another passenger, Erika Olson, 31, said some passengers kept their cool, but all the recent talk about Air Transat's problems left her rattled.

"When I saw the leak, I thought, 'Oh, that's not good.' "