Any traveller who normally revels in the formidable safety record of UK airlines, and cheerfully obeys the crew’s injunction to “sit back, relax and enjoy the flight”, may grip the armrests a little more tightly next time they board a narrow-bodied Airbus.
They might also peer out of the window to watch for engine cowls parting company from the aircraft during take-off.
The most alarming finding in the investigators’ interim report into the BA762 incident is that panels have become detached from engines of Airbus jets on no fewer than 37 previous occasions – all but five of them affecting the A320 family, and the majority at take-off. Until a week ago, though, they hadn’t started a fire.
In any enterprise in which human behaviour has a role to play, there is room for error. Airbus says bluntly that its smaller jets have “lower ground clearance” than larger, wide-bodied aircraft, and it appears that pilots have not always crouched down, as the manual requires, to inspect the latches.
Aviation safety is built upon the microscopic analysis of tragedy. Thankfully, the 75 passengers and five crew, not to mention the residents of south-west London, lived to tell the tale of a short and alarming flight. But airlines and manufacturers must urgently audit their records to ensure that there are no further accidents waiting to happen.