I recently wrote about how a Qatar Airways Cargo Boeing 777 was badly damaged at Chicago O’Hare. There’s now more information about what caused this incident, so I thought it would be interesting to take an updated look at this situation.
Qatar Airways Cargo 777 hits light pole at airport
On Friday, August 5, 2022, a Qatar Airways Cargo Boeing 777-200F with the registration code A7-BFH sustained some major damage. The roughly seven year old plane had just performed cargo flight QR8141 from Atlanta (ATL) to Chicago (ORD), when it was taxiing to its arrival stand.
The plane hit a metal light pole while taxiing. As you can see, it’s not just that the plane didn’t get clearance by a few inches, but rather we’re talking about a lot more than that.
Qatar Airways confirmed the incident in a statement:
“Qatar Airways can confirm that a cargo aircraft, QR8141 operating from Atlanta to Chicago, came into contact with a light post while taxiing at Chicago O’Hare and sustained some damage to the wing. The incident is currently under investigation and we can confirm that no crew members were injured.”
For context, Qatar Airways has a fleet of 26 Boeing 777Fs, which are freighter jets that fly all around the globe. This particular plane had just flown from Doha to Luxembourg to Atlanta to Chicago, and was supposed to continue to Maastricht and then Doha. 12 days after the incident, the plane continues to be on the ground at O’Hare Airport.
Are pilots or ATC to blame for this incident?
How could an incident like this occur? Well, in this case it would appear that this happened due to a combination of a mistake by the air traffic controller, as well at the pilots not doing their research about the airport taxiways.
Below is a short video with the ATC audio from the incident, plus a visualization of what happened (which is really helpful).
Here was the communication leading up to the incident:
Air traffic controller: “Alright, Qatari 67X, turn left on K, BB, give me an immediate left turn, and then I want you to go to Z and hold short of runway 9R.”
Air traffic controller: “BB and then BB2.”
Pilot: “BB, BB2, Qatari 67X.”
Next thing you know, the Qatar Airways pilot is saying this, almost rather sheepishly:
“Ground, Qatari 67X. I think we hit a pole with our right wing.”
Now, here’s the issue:
- The communication between the air traffic controller and pilots was strange to begin with, as two different sets of instructions were given with two separate transmissions, and it was never started that the second transmission would replace the first one; I almost wonder if the second transmission was intended for another pilot, but something got cut off
- A Qatar Airways pilot did read back the instructions, including taxiing on runway BB2, and no correction was issued
- The catch is that if you look at any O’Hare taxiway chart (including this one), there’s a clear warning that taxiway BB2 is closed to planes with a wingspan of over 36 meters (the 777 has a wingspan of over 60 meters); for that matter, pilots are supposed to constantly be scanning their surroundings while taxiing
It would seem to me that there’s enough fault to go around here:
- The air traffic controller gave incorrect instructions, or at a minimum communication was mixed up, and the controller didn’t catch the pilot reading back the instructions he heard
- Ultimately the pilots are responsible for the safe operation of the plane, so even if they’re given instructions, they should still be reviewing their airport charts, so that their plane doesn’t get on a taxiway with limited clearance
I’m curious to see how long it takes to fix this plane, or if the damage is so bad that it can’t realistically be fixed in a reasonable timeline.
I’m also curious who picks up the tab for this, when both parties share at least some fault. Do any OMAAT readers work in aviation insurance (or something similar), and have a sense of how this would be handled? I’m sure I’m not the only one who is curious.
This is the wildest incident we’ve seen with a cargo jet at Chicago O’Hare since earlier this year, when a China Airlines Cargo Boeing 747 lost control in the snow, and hit a bunch of ground equipment.
A Qatar Airways Boeing 777F sustained serious damage at O’Hare Airport, after hitting a light pole while taxiing to its arrival stand. It would appear that the air traffic controller gave incorrect instructions to the pilots, though they should have also consulted their charts and noticed that they were taxiing on a restricted taxiway.
Nearly two weeks later, the plane is still grounded. I’m curious when it flies again.
What do you make of this Qatar Airways O’Hare taxiing incident?