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Common Causes of Airplane Engine Failure

Common Causes of Airplane Engine FailureNo one boarding a plane wants to think about the potential that they might not make it to their destination in one piece, but for an average of 498 passengers and pilots per year, it’s a reality. Depending upon the airplane, an engine failure may or may not lead to catastrophic events that end in families filing suit in aviation litigation cases. Sadly, fates have been sealed by negligent mechanics whose failures to uphold their duty of care caused airplane engines to fail.

Are there preventable errors when it comes to airplane engines?

Some aircraft accidents occur well before the airplane takes off. Mechanical failures regularly account for 15 percent of all aviation crashes. Engine failure accounts for a very small number of those accidents, which is good news unless your family is one of those who suffered a loss. Adding insult to injury is the fact that half of all engine failures simply don’t have to happen at all, since they are effectuated by human error.

Reasons plane engines quit

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the reason for 30 percent of engine failure accidents remain unknown after the investigation has wrapped up. Reasons that are known to occur include:

  • Preventable fuel problems such as exhaustion, mismanagement, contamination, or misfueling.
  • Structural failures where a broken connecting rod, crank, valve, or camshaft is present account for seventeen percent of engine failures, primarily in Continental engines.
  • Mechanic failure by under-torqueing cylinder through bolts, rod nuts, fuel pumps, and accessory case hardware that can cause damage to other engine parts.
  • Fuel starvation due to pilot ignorance in not knowing how to access fuel tanks which cause engine failure.
  • Induction icing when pilots experienced engine failure after forgetting proper use of carburetor heat when descending.
  • Failure to replace worn hoses or fittings and failing to do required magneto maintenance.

Basic pre-flight checks that save lives

If you own a car, you change the oil and keep it maintained because otherwise you’ll be stranded somewhere unexpectedly. Now imagine that same scenario playing out while you’re 35,000 feet above ground or over water. Unless you’re an experienced sky diver with a parachute on board, your options are much more limited for getting out alive.

Whether you own a small private plane that you pilot yourself or you fly commercial jets, at a minimum these should be properly checked prior to taking off:

  • Oil and fuel fittings and lines, which can become loose, brittle and cracked
  • Cylinder bases, which can leak oil
  • Rocker box covers can become loose and cause oil loss and damage the engine compartment
  • Magnetos, which fire spark plug cylinders, can become loose and fall off the engine
  • Ignition leads can become loose or worn and need periodic replacing
  • Alternators have drive couplings that can fail and send pieces into the engine causing failure
  • Turbochargers can leak and fittings can become loose
  • Throttle, mixture, prop and carb heat cables can cause engine failure if a cable end fitting or clamp screw comes undone
  • Fuel vents can become clogged without regular cleaning
  • Air filters that are too old can break down sending shreds of filter into the engine choking it
  • Baffling needs periodic replacement

It’s much simpler to handle any maintenance needs discovered during a pre-flight check than to take off hastily and risk a crash.

If you have been injured or your family member has been killed in an aircraft crash, you deserve honest answers about what happened. Often, without legal representation, you will only get part of the story, which may not be enough to pursue a fair legal claim based upon a complete picture of the facts and evidence uncovered by an FAA or independent investigation.

To learn your legal options after a plane crash, schedule your free case evaluation with the experienced Atlanta aviation law attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP now. Call our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.


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