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The crew of an American Airlines flight returned for landing after a flap fairing detached itself from their Boeing 777, during their climb.

The incident happened on the 20th of March, involving American Airlines flight AA-113. This is a daily-scheduled, mid-afternoon flight, departing Barcelona El Prat Airport (LEBL) in Catalonia, Spain. Its destination is Miami International (KMIA) in the United States. On the day of the incident, there were 261 passengers on board.

It is not clear exactly at what stage of the aircraft’s flight the incident happened. But as the American Airlines flight crew climbed through FL120, they became aware that their 777 lost a flap fairing. This is really a flap track fairing. It is an aerodynamic cover for the tracks that the flaps run on, as they move. Passengers can see them behind and below the trailing edge of the wing.

Flap track fairings on a 747 (yellow arrows). Note that passengers and crew often can’t see them with the flaps extended.

Pilots and ground crews often refer to these parts as “canoes”. In this American Airlines flight, it is likely that a cabin crew member alerted the pilots to the missing flap fairing. Some versions of the 777 have cameras on the horizontal stabilizer, showing the landing gear and the wing. However, 777-200s generally don’t have this feature.

 

American Airlines Flap Fairing – Where Did It Go?

In their brief report, the Spanish authorities (CIAIAC) made no mention of where the fairing landed. Given the nature of many departures from Barcelona, the part likely fell into the sea. The pilots continued their climb, levelling off at FL330. But following an assessment of the damage from the departing fairing, the American Airlines crew decided to return to Barcelona.

Also, the crew declared a Mayday. It is not unheard of for aircraft to fly with a missing fairing. The missing part would add some drag, however. But more importantly, the crew might have suspected further damage to their flaps or another part of the aircraft. The American Airlines 777 landed back in Barcelona, missing one of its flap fairings, approximately one hour and ten minutes after departure.

CIAIAC confirmed that the aircraft suffered minor further damage and that it is investigating the incident. However, the aircraft has since returned to regular service. This is a twenty-three-year-old Boeing 777-223ER, with tail number N777AN. American Airlines is its only operator.

Before this American Airlines flight, we saw other incidents where an aircraft lost a flap fairing. In a recent case, an All-Nippon 747-8 freighter lost one of its “canoes” on short final to Tokyo Narita Airport (RJAA). And on this occasion, the part, weighing 60 kilos (132lbs), fell on land. Fortunately, it landed within the airport perimeter, hitting no one.

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