Aer Lingus A320 at Barcelona on Mar 14th 2012, fuel emergency

Last Update: August 27, 2013 / 16:00:40 GMT/Zulu time

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Incident Facts

Date of incident
Mar 14, 2012

Aer Lingus

Aircraft Registration

Aircraft Type
Airbus A320

ICAO Type Designator

Spain's CIAIAC released their final report concluding the probable causes of the incident were:

The tower’s initial decision to maintain the configuration made it impossible for the aircraft to land at its destination airport.

The supervisor’s decision was prompted by the poorly written text of the applicable procedure and could have been influenced by the ACC controllers’ failure to adhere to the memorandum of understanding, the increased workload, communications and work hours.

The prolonged wait, probably exacerbated by the expectations raised in the crews by approach control that the runway would be changed, resulted in decreased fuel margins which, along with the improper handling of the information regarding the alternate airport, made it impossible to deviate to another airport, forcing the crew to make an urgency declaration that would eventually enable them to land at the destination airport.

The CIAIAC reported the Airbus had departed Cork with one ton of fuel in addition to the flight plan fuel.

When the crew was relayed information by the approach controller about visibility at 300/250/600 meters, the crew stated they needed 400 meters minimum and requested runway 25L featuring an ILS Category III with lower minimums, the aircraft and crew were certified to perform Category IIIb approaches. An Easyjet crew, also faced with these weather reports, replied as well they needed 400 meters and requested runway 25L. Approach promised to talk to the supervisor.

The following coordination between approach (T1 sector), tower and supervisor was described by the CIAIAC:

"Sector T1 contacts the tower to ask if the approach category is degraded or if there simply is no CAT III available. The tower replies that on that runway only CAT II is available."


"Approach (Sector T1) asks the tower if it expects visibility to improve. The tower replies that the RVR is at the CAT II limit of 300 m. The approach controller asks if the situation is expected to improve, to which the tower controller replies that he will check with the supervisor."

And further:

"The T1 Sector controller apologizes for being “such a pain” and relays to the tower the proposal to use 25L. The tower controller says “if conditions get much worse we won’t have any choice but to open 25L for CAT III”. He goes on to explain that there is no procedure for maintaining both runways in use and that it is the pilot’s decision to divert to the alternate if they cannot land."


"The tower supervisor contacts the T1 planner and explains that, according to procedure, the parallel runway configuration must be maintained while the RVR is in excess of 300 m.

The approach controller tells him that according to two different crews, no airline can land in CAT II with RVR below 400 m and they are asking if the airport is closed.

The tower supervisor insists that the CAT II minimum is 300 m, that that is what the procedure says. He literally tells the controller to “have them file a report or do what they want, let them go to the alternate if they deem it necessary or they can come here… we’re not going to set a single runway for them or for anybody”.

The approach controller asks if the procedure is a local or international regulation, to which the tower supervisor replies that it is an ICAO regulation, “it’s the ABC of LVP”, and adds “what we can’t do is change a procedure because he has different minimums”. He mentions the procedure he has in front of him at that moment and proceeds to read the definition of Cat II verbatim, adding “the second we have 299 we’ll have to go to category 3” and that “it’s simple”, if he cannot land he has to go around and divert to the alternate."

The approach controller contacted Girona and was told three parking stands were open, subsequently adding five spots were open and there was definitely room for the Aer Lingus.

More aircraft requested runway 25L indicating runway 25R was below required minimums, four aircraft were already holding up to 30 minutes. The approach controller apologized to one of the crews: "to be honest sir, I don´t understand either but I cannot tell you why sir"

The Aer Lingus crew decided to divert to Valencia and began the diversion, approach told them the RVR had just increased to 400 meters, the crew decided to attempt another approach and if they needed to go-around again to divert to Girona.

Again the CIAIAC reports:

"The Control Center requests to speak with the tower supervisor to inform him of the situation with the holding airplanes and request a frequency on which the tower can provide an explanation to the aircraft “so you can tell them about the runway because this is getting to be a burden”.

The tower supervisor states that 25L is not in use because it is not preferred for landings and that until the RVR falls below 300 m the change will not take place. He insists that that is what the procedure says and he cannot do anything else."

The Aer Lingus crew needed to go-around again due to reducing visibility and requested to be vectored directly to Girona and was told by the T4 sector controller that there was no space available at Girona. In response to that information the Aer Lingus crew declared PAN PAN PAN, one of other aircraft in the hold demands an explanation. The Aer Lingus aircraft is being vectored for an ILS Category III approach to runway 25L.

The CIAIAC reported:

"The ACC informs the tower supervisor that an airplane has declared an urgency and is landing on runway 25L. The tower supervisor replies that the runway is not in use and asks the ACC “which aircraft declared a medical urgency”. ACC informs that it is not a medical urgency, to which the supervisor replies that if a PAN PAN call is made, that it must be a medical urgency and insists that if it is not an emergency of a medical nature that runway 25L cannot be used.

ACC replies with the expression “OK, sorry...” and later confirms “Yes, I suppose...”.

The supervisor asks not to transfer airplanes to the tower frequency and insists that if aircraft cannot land at the airport they must divert to the alternates and that aircraft cannot be the ones deciding which runway is in use. He nonetheless requests the activation of the 25L ILS.

Sector T1 again requests information from the Girona tower on the availability of spaces on the apron, to which the runway replies that there are at least two.

On learning this, the tower supervisor says that if there is no emergency, both the aircraft and he are doing something improper. The
ACC argues that the aircraft is low on fuel to which the supervisor replies “low on fuel and emergency are two different things”."

And finally:

"The tower supervisor informs ACC of his decision to change to a single runway configuration with 25L."

Aer Lingus proceeds for a safe landing on runway 25L touching down with about 1800 kg of fuel remaining, 800kg above required minimum.

The CIAIAC reported that Girona Airport had assigned and reserved a parking stand for EI-868 until the information arrived that EI-868 would not land in Girona. Girona did not reach maximum capacity that day, a maximum of 12 aircraft were at the airport with two stands remaining available.

The Aer Lingus crew praised the performance of approach control stating that there obviously was a disparity between criteria used by approach and tower. After landing visibility was insufficient to conduct a CATII approach.

The CIAIAC analysed that the low visibility procedures at Barcelona did not explicitely define what RVR values were needed for CATII operations, nor did the procedures mention how these values depended on aircraft category or decision height. Only a generic definition of 300 meters RVR and 100 feet vertical visbility existed. A reference to a section of the applicable regulatory document, listing the required RVR up to 450 meters, was contained in the procedure, that document however was not available at Barcelona Airport. Neither the supervisor nor other supervisory personnel at Barcelona were aware of that document and its content.

The CIAIAC concluded that portion of analyisis: "The deficiencies in the written procedure notwithstanding, the ATC system must ensure that a tower supervisor, as the top official responsible for deciding the configuration of the active runways, is familiar with the regulations involving his own airport’s operating minimums. This incident has served to underscore the lack of knowledge in this regard not only on the part of the controller who was acting as supervisor on the day in question, but also on the part of other supervisory personnel who, when consulted by the former, failed to identify the problem. It seems advisable, then, that in addition to the possible improvements made to the applicable procedure, that measures be taken to improve the training of supervisors in this area."

With respect to the conflicting information about the parking stands at Girona the CIAIAC analysed: "Minutes before the control center reported to the aircraft that there was no room in Girona, information to the contrary had been received at both the sector T1 console and at the control center supervisor’s console. This apparent contradiction can be explained as resulting from the concern caused in the ACC by the accumulation and massive diversions of airplanes taking place in the TMA that day if, upon arrival at the alternate airports, there had been no room to park the airplanes. What is known is that the airport had space available to accommodate the Shamrock (EI-868) at all times. In light of the foregoing, it would be desirable to enhance the mechanisms intended to ensure that this type of information, which is of such relevance in this type of scenario, is relayed clearly from the airport to control, and that in the ACC it be channeled through someone who can verify it and convey it to all of the relevant parties."

In the interview with CIAIAC the tower supervisor provided testimony described as: "He stated that on the day of the incident, he was unaware of the table in the EU OPS that relates RVR, airplane category and decision height. After seeing the table he added that, “impartially”, and taking into account that additional information, he may have interpreted the procedure differently, but since the table was not part of the procedure, no other interpretation was possible on the day of the incident."

The supervisor interview continued: "When asked why he equated the urgency call (triple Pan Pan) with a medical emergency, he could not give an explanation, since he stated being aware and knowledgeable of the fact that it can stem from other types of emergencies, though the most common reason for the call is some kind of medical problem onboard. In this regard, he stated that in December 2011 he had attended a training course specifically on emergencies."
Incident Facts

Date of incident
Mar 14, 2012

Aer Lingus

Aircraft Registration

Aircraft Type
Airbus A320

ICAO Type Designator

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