That’ll cost a pretty penny

There were some interesting aviation developments earlier this month in the remote Arctic region of Canada, some of them captured on video.  USA Today reports:

Swiss Flight 40 was headed from Zurich to Los Angeles, flying near Canada’s far north when it suffered a problem to one of its engines and diverted to Iqaluit.

“The real issue was they only had one engine, but despite that it was a smooth landing,” Iqaluit airport director John Hawkins said to the National Post of Toronto.

The temperature upon landing around 3 p.m. local time was -6F (-21C) before dropping into the -20s (-30C) during the overnight hours.

There’s more at the link.

To make matters even more interesting, according to Aviation Herald, the Boeing 777 was too large to use the smaller taxiways at Iqaluit, and too big to turn around at the end of the runway.  It had to wait almost an hour for a ground tug to make its way out to the aircraft, push it back to a main taxiway, then tow it to the terminal.  (Indeed, I was surprised to learn that tiny Iqaluit had an airport capable of handling a 777, but on investigation, it turns out to have been built as a diversion airport for transpolar flights.  That means it has to be able to handle the largest and heaviest aircraft in emergency.)

The fun started with the single-engine approach and landing of the big 777.  It was captured on video by a local planespotter.

Next came the problem of how to get a spare engine to Iqaluit.  The 777’s General Electric GE90 engines are massive, requiring a very wide bodied freight aircraft to accommodate their girth.

In this case, Swiss International Air Lines chartered an Antonov An-124 freighter to carry a spare engine, tools and technicians from Zurich, Switzerland, to the Arctic.  This report shows its arrival at Iqaluit, and the fitting of the new engine.

The Antonov remained on the ground with the 777 for four days (at a pretty substantial daily charter rate, I’m sure) while the new engine was unloaded, fitted to the 777 and tested, and the damaged engine loaded aboard the freighter.  According to the Aviation Herald, both aircraft finally departed on February 8th, the 777 back to Zurich and the Antonov to the UK, presumably to take the damaged engine to a repair center.

A GE90 engine costs between $30 and $40 million, according to different sources, so this one will almost certainly be repaired rather than replaced.  The costs of doing so, for such a complex piece of engineering, are likely to be at least a few million dollars.  Add to that the other costs involved – chartering the Antonov for several days, plus the expense of flying it from Europe to the Canadian Arctic and back;  sending another aircraft to collect the passengers from the original flight and get them to their destination, Los Angeles;  repairs and local fees in Iqaluit;  the return flight to Zurich;  the loss of revenue while the 777 was out of service;  and other incidentals – and the total bill for this little problem might be as high as $30 to $40 million in the long term.  Of course, most of that should be covered by insurance, but it’s still a pretty penny.  I daresay Swiss’s accountants are still adding up the numbers, with doleful looks on their joint and several faces.



  1. As someone who grew up in a relatively cold place, that repair is going to well and truly suck. I hope they brought lots of spares, because it wouldn't surprise me if some of the parts didn't crack under torque at those temperatures.

  2. The GE video claims, and shows, a 747 flying only on a single 90-115 engine (I assume the other 3 are at idle power setting, which would make them little more than aerodynamic drag).

    And, while "sustained level flight" is not "takeoff," I wonder if an empty, lightly-fueled 777 could take off in dense, cold air on one engine. If it could, it would make sense to fly it to a repair facility in warmer climes for the engine swap (that assumes the original failure of the first engine did not portend increased potential failure of the second, and that airline operating personnel, and insurers were accepting of the risk involved; there might also be a runway length issue involved – emergency facilities are not necessarily equivlent to "standard operating facilities."). I'm sure someone offered that idea, I'd be curious to know the reasons it was vetoed.

  3. The rare cost of such events should have been covered by the regular and recurring savings of using twin engine aircraft over long range flights. When companies decided to switch to twin-engine aircraft and employ ETOPS flights they did so for economic reasons. Manufacturers and airlines lobbied for ETOPS alternates to be built to accomodate the legalities (land the aircraft)only. Many cant turn around on the runway, some dont have terminal (or medical) facilities (sit on the airplane). But hey, we're saving a few bucks for the bottom line.

    While passengers may not like to situation if theres a divert, I am sure they like it a whole lot better than the alternatives. Engines Turn Or People Swim.

  4. It's been a while since I studied this, but from what I remember any commercial jet has to be able to lose one engine at the worst possible moment of take off and still make it into the air with enough power to clear the runway boundary and make a controlled return.

  5. The airport at Iqaluit was built during WWII by the USAF and later used as a SAC base for reconnaisance and aerial refuelling aircraft. SAC pulled out in the '60s.

    Originally it was called Frobisher Bay, the name was changed in the late '80s to appease the Inuit. Search for "Frobisher Air Base" instead.

    Daddy Bear, I've fixed airplanes (DHC-6s, HS748s and 727s) in the hangar and on the ramp in Frobe. Aircraft hardware meets mil-specs that require the steel to not be brittle down to -55F so that isn't a problem. Working on our Chevy pickups was a different story, wheel studs and bolts would snap and we changed a lot of U-joints too.

    The problem is that you have to remove your gloves often
    to manipulate very cold metal and any anti-seize compound you're smearing on the mounting bolts solidifies instantly. For smaller airplanes like the 748 we had a DC-3 engine tent that could be used only if the wind was calm and a big space heater.


  6. Flew in and out of Iqaluit a couple of times back in the early '90's when I was part of a team that was replacing the old BMEWS/DEW line radars with completely automatic(unmanned) radars. Neat place and still kind of primitive even then.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *