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Home > Airplanes > Do aircraft parts often fall off the plane?
Do aircraft parts often fall off the plane?
Aviation - Airplanes
Friday, 20 October 2006 21:12

Hi Captain Lim,

It was reported in the papers that a bolt fell off from a Singapore Airlines B747-400 while flying over Sydney and the airline claims that the fallen bolt "did not compromise the safety of the aircraft".

What if the bolt fell into the ocean instead of somebody*s roof and was never found? Will Singapore Airlines ever notice that a bolt was missing in the first place?

Secondly, to protect its reputation, they will of course claim that the aircraft safety was never compromised. But how true is this?

Thirdly, do aircraft parts often "fell" off the aircraft (there was another famous incident where a Continental Airlines aircraft had caused the Concorde to crash).

Thank you so much for your wonderful site and I love to hear what you think.


Jeffrey Lee

Hi Jeffrey,

Normally, parts don*t often fall off from a plane - just like your rear view mirror won*t drop off from your car when you are driving it. Well, rare as it may be, it does happen on a plane once in a while.

If it did, would it be dangerous? Well, it depends on the part involved. Some missing parts are harmless whilst another critical component lost may affect the flight control of the plane. Yes, externally, it may damage properties, harm persons or even had caused the last Concorde to crash in Paris on July 2000.

If you think bolts should not drop off from planes, manufacturers of planes cannot absolutely guarantee that. Many planes, including the Boeing 777, have checklists for the worst kind of scenario ? ?Engine Separation?, meaning that an engine has dropped off. Even with that problem, it is not a life and death matter. A pilot is trained to land with the remaining engine.

The American terminology for such an incident is known as ?Things Falling Off Aircraft or TFOA?. The pilot must then submit a hazardous material (?HAZMAT?) report within 24 hours in case the material can cause further harm.

What if the bolt fell into the ocean instead of somebody*s roof and was never found? Will Singapore Airlines ever notice that a bolt was missing in the first place?

Yes, on arrival at Sydney, the engineer and pilot would check the plane during the external inspection. Even if they had overlooked a ?difficult to see? bolt that can affect the flight control, the item is checked again after the engines are started up or the defect would be shown in the cockpit if it had affected the selection of the component involved.

In the Singapore Airlines incident, the airline stated that the dislodging of the bolt from the ?leading edge flaps? had not compromised the safety or performance of the plane. It was a good public relation response. Indeed, if the leading edge flaps were to be affected, it would only cause the plane to land at a slightly higher speed.

Here are some more TFOA incidents:

In August 2000, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 was forced to make an emergency landing when some engine pieces plummeted to the ground and landed on a crowded Los Angeles beach

On March 10, 2005, a couple taking a stroll through woodlands near Gatwick airport had a lucky escape when a door from a passing British Airways jet, crashed to earth. A part of the 70-pound door from a Boeing 777 had become dislodged just after take off and missed the couple by only 20 feet!

On August 11, 2006, a door fell off from a TAM Fokker 100 from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. It dropped off 18 minutes after departure but the plane was able to return to Sao Paulo without incident. Nobody was injured.

Other events occurring at various times:

a. An engine exploded on a Japan Airlines flight bound for Tokyo with pieces of the engine falling on a neighborhood in Jakarta. The falling debris hurt no one but 16 homes were damaged.

b. The right wheel of a Blue Panorama Airlines Boeing 737 fell off after it departed from an airport in Spain and was forced to make an unscheduled landing amid emergency in Rome.

c. A similar incident happened near Los Angeles where an American Airlines Boeing 757 lost its right nose gear but managed to land safely with 105 passengers on board.

d. A landing gear door fell off a Delta Airlines Boeing 727 shortly after the plane took off from Boston*s Logan International Airport. The 30-pound metal door crashed into an empty street in a quiet residential neighborhood.

So, things do fall off from the sky! :-)


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Comments (6)

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Autotive Engineer
When a plane is crashing, where is the safest place to be? I often see the tail section surviving..usually breaking away. Of course..there is no way to crawl into the tail section...and no part of the cabin area is usually attached. Is there a safest area of the plan to sit or to run to in case of a crash?
Michael , 16 May, 2009
i realize that they can't 100% "guarantee" that no bolts will fall, but can't they have backups and backups for the backups in terms of bolts so these situations don't happen? I haev to be honest, I didn't realize there were so many of these events here. Not too comforting.
Derek , 18 May, 2009
My dad was a WWII pilot and thereafter a career pilot for National Airlines. At that time his opinion was that the "727 and the old turbo prop Electra (as I recall it was named) were two flying machines that could not be forced from the air beyond landing them on the ground."
RW Spurlock , 05 Mar, 2011
Saw something drop off a jet at cruising altitude yesterday and pointed it out to several friends as it fell. The FAA didn't seem very eager to investigate and of course airlines won't be very eager to report such an incident so this sort of thing may be happening more often than is generally known.
Vern , 08 Jun, 2012
What about the infamous "blue ice meteor"???
Karl W. Schweickardt, Jr. , 28 Jul, 2013
Um...people on the ground???
This article seems to have the focus of worrying about the safety of the plane. While I empathize with that perspective, I'm also concerned about the people on the ground. I imagine getting hit by a fallen bolt wouldn't be good for ones health.
JD , 06 Jan, 2017

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