Air Canada plane lands safely in Madrid after tire rupture, engine issue

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An Air Canada jet landed safely in Madrid Monday after engine trouble and a blown tire forced pilots to declare an emergency shortly after takeoff.

The Toronto-bound Boeing 767-300 carrying 128 passengers and eight crew touched down safely after circling southeast of Adolfo Suarez-Barajas airport for four hours "to use up fuel and lighten the aircraft for landing," Air Canada said.

The engine issue occurred shortly after takeoff in Madrid, the airline said in a statement. "A tire also reportedly ruptured on take-off, one of 10 on this model of aircraft."

A spokesman for Spanish airport operator AENA said the pilot radioed the tower about 30 minutes after takeoff to request a slot for emergency landing.

"Our pilots are fully trained for this eventuality," Air Canada said in an email. "Nonetheless, an emergency was declared in order to obtain landing priority."

Spain's Defence Ministry said an F-18 fighter jet was dispatched from a military airport near the Spanish capital to evaluate the damage done to the landing gear of flight AC837.

A spokesman for Enaire, Spain's air navigation authority, said the plane's landing gear did not fold up properly after taking off and that a piece of it may have damaged part of one of the engines.

The officials were not authorized to be named in media reports.

Benoit Gauthier, a retired Air Canada pilot who flew for 37 years, said the tire rupture and engine problem are "most likely" connected.

"When a tire ruptures on takeoff, there's always a remote chance that it explodes and some part of the rubber ends up in the engine," he said in a phone interview.

The engine issue likely triggered the return to airport, while using up fuel makes for a lighter load on a plane that lacks the full power of its second turbine, he said.

"If you've lost an engine, you don't want to cross the Atlantic. You want to land," Gauthier said. 

Guido Fioravantti, whose father was on the plane, confirmed the safe landing from New York.

"Landed safely, everything is ok!" Fioravantti said.

All 136 people on board will be provided with hotel rooms and rebooked on other flights, Air Canada said.

Gilles LeVasseur, a professor of business and law at the University of Ottawa, said the airline is not obliged to compensate passengers further under Canada's new passenger rights charter.

"This is outside their control," LeVasseur said in a phone interview.

"It's not like if you made a failure or you didn't execute your proper maintenance," he said.

LeVasseur said Air Canada should review safety protocols for the tires and their manufacturer to avoid future ruptures.

Spain's El Mundo newspaper's website published audio it said featured the plane's pilot explaining to the passengers the need to return to Madrid because a wheel had been damaged during the takeoff.

"Because we are a bit too heavy we have to get rid of fuel before being able to land," the voice can be heard saying in Spanish.

Madrid residents posted videos online showing a plane flying unusually low over the Spanish capital's centre and suburbs.

It was the second incident of the day at Madrid's international airport, the busiest in the country. Earlier on Monday, the airport closed for over an hour due to the reported sighting of drones in the vicinity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2020.

-- With files from The Associated Press

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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