Details: Qatar Airways Cargo 777 Badly Damaged At Chicago O’Hare

Details: Qatar Airways Cargo 777 Badly Damaged At Chicago O’Hare

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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.

Bottom line

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?

Conversations (13)
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  1. jorgje Member

    Ben states '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'

    Actually, both instructions were exactly the same. He says left K, BB, immediate left <etc. Then he says BB, BB2. That immediate left is BB2. So at the end of the day, it's the same route.

    Of course, he should have done K - Z. Or BB - BB1 - Z.

  2. John Guest

    My car has a 360” camera and if you push a button the computer stitches all the images together and it looks like you’re flying around the car. I’ve read so many stories about how pilots can’t see. That Qantas A380 had an engine explode and one of the pilots had to run back and look at the engine as it can’t be seen from the cockpit.

    Is it just inertia or is their...

    My car has a 360” camera and if you push a button the computer stitches all the images together and it looks like you’re flying around the car. I’ve read so many stories about how pilots can’t see. That Qantas A380 had an engine explode and one of the pilots had to run back and look at the engine as it can’t be seen from the cockpit.

    Is it just inertia or is their a fear that pilots will be distracted by all those external images? I know that workload and distraction is a huge issue. Just giving them more data isn’t always the best option.

  3. Eskimo Guest

    Time to remove the human decision out of the equation.

    My flight sim AI on a $300 Xbox can fly better. That's probably less than a day of a pilot salary.

  4. Tim Dunn Diamond

    It is highly unlikely that the FAA would ever be forced to pay for damage even if there were errors by ATC.
    Airlines are responsible for distributing maps of airports to their pilots. If the transmission was confusing or didn't make sense, the pilot should have stopped until they figured out the instructions. Fixed objects don't just appear out of nowhere.

    1. jetjock64 Guest

      Probable playout scenario: Qatar makes a demand on FAA, and FAA rejects it with "no fault" defense. Qatar's insurer files suit for subrogation against FAA, which starts up negotiations between Qatar insurer and FAA. Both sides hire experts, like former NTSB inspectors, for reports, and sides go to mediation. Sides will probably settle during or after mediation with shared fault (a fairly typical outcome of these type cases), or else a trial will be held....

      Probable playout scenario: Qatar makes a demand on FAA, and FAA rejects it with "no fault" defense. Qatar's insurer files suit for subrogation against FAA, which starts up negotiations between Qatar insurer and FAA. Both sides hire experts, like former NTSB inspectors, for reports, and sides go to mediation. Sides will probably settle during or after mediation with shared fault (a fairly typical outcome of these type cases), or else a trial will be held. Former aviation insurer attorney.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      you also have to factor in that Qatar is a major US mililtary strategic partner and QR, the airline, is state-owned. The FAA might not admit fault but, if the FAA is at fault, the US taxpayer will be able to help Qatar.

  5. view Guest

    Media reports the pilots (all four of them that is, must be relief crew on board) have been fired by Qatar Airways: https://www.aeronewsjournal.com/2022/08/qatar-airways-fires-four-pilots-after.html

  6. The Joe Guest

    All I know is: rarely should anyone try to blame ATC. Only official investigations can make those conclusions.

    Even controllers of similar types (Tower/Tower, radar/radar) have difficulty interpreting events that don't happen at their facility. Someone not in the profession.... well good luck.

    For my part, while the VATSIM video identifies ORD GND in the second transmission "BB, BB2", that sounded like a different voice than the first. Could've been a controller change/trainer adjusting trainee...

    All I know is: rarely should anyone try to blame ATC. Only official investigations can make those conclusions.

    Even controllers of similar types (Tower/Tower, radar/radar) have difficulty interpreting events that don't happen at their facility. Someone not in the profession.... well good luck.

    For my part, while the VATSIM video identifies ORD GND in the second transmission "BB, BB2", that sounded like a different voice than the first. Could've been a controller change/trainer adjusting trainee instructions. Couldve been the other pilot on QR, or it could've been another party altogether.

    Then there are a hundred other questions to determine true liability (was this a change, was the controller properly briefed/trained to know better than to send B777 that way, etc).

    Plus, didn't QR pretty much admit liability by firing the pilots?

    1. The Joe Guest

      On second listen, I guess it does sound like the same person. Also, I mistakenly said "VATSIM" instead of VAS Aviation

  7. Omer Guest

    @Lucky - typo before the audio clip, you say visitation but I assume you mean visualization?

  8. Shar Guest

    They flew it to MST from ORD. Repair facility surely?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Shar -- That was supposed to be the next flight, but it never happened, as far as I can tell? I see it listed on Flightradar24, but as you'll see, there's on flight data, and no flight time listed.

    2. EVW Guest

      plane is still at ORD - I've seen it several times over the past week

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Tim Dunn Diamond

you also have to factor in that Qatar is a major US mililtary strategic partner and QR, the airline, is state-owned. The FAA might not admit fault but, if the FAA is at fault, the US taxpayer will be able to help Qatar.

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jetjock64 Guest

Probable playout scenario: Qatar makes a demand on FAA, and FAA rejects it with "no fault" defense. Qatar's insurer files suit for subrogation against FAA, which starts up negotiations between Qatar insurer and FAA. Both sides hire experts, like former NTSB inspectors, for reports, and sides go to mediation. Sides will probably settle during or after mediation with shared fault (a fairly typical outcome of these type cases), or else a trial will be held. Former aviation insurer attorney.

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jorgje Member

Ben states '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' Actually, both instructions were exactly the same. He says left K, BB, immediate left <etc. Then he says BB, BB2. That immediate left is BB2. So at the end of the day, it's the same route. Of course, he should have done K - Z. Or BB - BB1 - Z.

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