The aircraft would have joined UAE flag carrier Etihad Airways. Photo: Getty Images
It is always a sad moment when an aircraft is damaged beyond repair, and has to be written off. This typically happens as a result of being involved in an accident while in airline service. However, for one very unfortunate Airbus A340, it didn’t even reach delivery before this happened. Let’s take a closer look back at the events of November 15th, 2007.
Let’s start by establishing the nature of the aircraft that never made it beyond pre-delivery testing. The plane in question was an Airbus A340-600, which bore the Airbus test registration F-WWCJ. This variant of the Airbus A340 was not just the longest in the family, but, at the time of its launch, also the longest in the world. It measured 75.36 meters long.
The aircraft’s future customer was to be Etihad Airways. Data from ATDB.aero shows that it would have been registered as A6-EHG, had the Abu Dhabi-based airline been able to take delivery of it. This database reports that the airline ended up flying seven examples of the A340-600, with F-WWCJ / A6-EHG being the only canceled acquisition.
According to ch-aviation.com, the aircraft had been in testing for nearly two months before the incident. Its first flight took place on September 21st, 2007, powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 556-61 engines. ATDB.aero adds that its delivery to Etihad would have been exactly two months later, on November 21st. However, six days before, catastrophe struck.
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Before an aircraft makes its way from the manufacturer to the customer, it has to pass a series of tests. On November 15th, 2007, F-WWCJ was in a test pen at Airbus’s headquarters in Toulouse, France for the purpose of undergoing stationary engine testing.
According to Aviation Safety Network, a team of engineers began these trials at 15:19 local time. FlightGlobal notes that their purpose was to monitor the possibility of oil leaks. However, and crucially, the engineers had not properly secured the aircraft with chocks.
To begin with, this didn’t result in anything untoward, with the Engine Pressure Ratio being between 1.04 and 1.22 until 15:58. Following an hour’s break, testing recommenced with the engines running at higher thrust levels, with the EPR being as high as between 1.24 and 1.26 for three minutes. Eventually, this caused the unchecked aircraft to move.
According to, Aviation Safety Network, the aircraft was in motion for 13 seconds before being brought abruptly to a stop. While engineers applied the brake pedals within seconds of the movement beginning, they did not reduce the thrust. This meant that, despite turning the plane to the right, it collided with the pen wall at around 30 knots (55 km/h).
With the aircraft not having been chocked, this could lead you to wonder why it didn’t move sooner. As it happens, its parking brake had been applied, and so only reached its limit once thrust had been increased. When the engineers applied the brake pedals as the plane started to move, this deactivated its parking brake, hence the acceleration.
FlightGlobal notes that, as the aircraft turned 37 degrees to the right, it took just seven seconds to accelerate from four to 31 knots. This surge meant that, when the aircraft came to impact the pen’s retaining wall, the impact on it and its occupants was significant.
As you will have seen in the photographs earlier in the article, the collision pushed the aircraft’s nose up and through the concrete barrier. This caused extensive damage to the forward part of the quadjet’s fuselage, with the cockpit ultimately breaking off. The left engines also took a hit, and the angled wall caused the tail to hit the ground as well.
The collision also had safety and health implications for the aircraft’s occupants. All in all, there were nine people onboard F-WWCJ when it collided with the test pen’s concrete retaining wall. Of these, Aviation Safety Network observes that five received injuries as a result of the incident. FlightGlobal adds that four of these were of a serious nature.
The fact that the impact of the collision sheared the plane’s cockpit from its fuselage meant that writing the aircraft off was the only viable option. ATDB.aero notes that the wreckage was dismantled in 2008, with the tail briefly being displayed at the Champs Elysées in Paris. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic reportedly used part of it as a cabin crew trainer.
The incident was, of course, subsequently the subject of an investigation from France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis. According to FlightGlobal, the BEA’s inquiry found that the collision was the culmination of test procedure violations. It added that a lack of detection and correction of these violations had resulted in F-WWCJ’s terminal crash.
But why did those onboard the aircraft not think to reduce its thrust in tandem with their brake applications? This is where the human factor comes into play, with the BEA ultimately determining that “surprise led the ground-test technician to focus on the braking system, so he did not think about reducing the engines’ thrust.”
Had Etihad taken delivery of the aircraft, it would have been the carrier’s third A340-600. A month after the incident, its actual third A340-600 arrived, bearing the registration A6-EHH. Deliveries continued in 2008 and 2009, resulting in a seven-strong fleet. The A340-600 was part of Eithad’s operations for a decade, with the first delivery occurring in 2007.
2017 then saw these lengthy quadjets leave the Abu Dhabi-based UAE flag carrier, doing so between April and October that year. Three examples remain active today, with the other four in storage. F-WWCJ / A6-EHG would have seen Etihad’s A340-600 fleet consist of eight jets, but it was not meant to be, owing to a curious turn of pre-delivery events.
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