Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hail pummels Delta 747 over China; NWA's "Spirit of Beijing" may face scrapyard

The severely damaged nose cone is clearly apparent in this photo.   
(Photo by Brian Walker)

A mothballed Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 is at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP/KMSP) and likely under maintenance to replace another 747 that was damaged by hail while flying over China.
The damaged plane, a 26-year-old Boeing 747-451 (23819/721) N644US, was dubbed "The Spirit of Beijing" by Eagan-based Northwest Airlines Corp. before Delta bought the airline in 2008.
It was flying from Detroit to Seoul two weeks ago when it encountered a hailstorm. It's not clear whether the plane, will return to service (Delta is phasing out its 747 fleet by 2017).
Flight 159 was about two-and-a-half hours from landing at South Korea's Incheon International Airport June 16, passenger Brian Walker said, when the pilot warned passengers to sit down and buckle up. "Then it hit," the Chicago resident said, describing hundreds of passengers screaming as the plane rolled, pitched and yawed, at times seemingly out of control.
"The plane was dropping vertically then 'slamming' into something," said Walker, who used to hold a private pilot's license. "This happened about seven times. The few unbuckled (passengers) initially flew up to hit the overhead bins. Anything loose in the cabin flew. All of the meal and beverage carts were spilled. My glasses flew off my face and luckily were recovered several rows away. Luggage was tossed out of overhead bins onto the heads of passengers."
Afterward, the captain told passengers he was unable to get permission from Chinese air traffic controllers to fly around the weather, Walker said.
"I'm sure if we were in U.S. and sustained this damage we would have made an immediate emergency landing," he said. "Being over China and near North Korea, I assume that it was decided to continue" to Incheon International.
Walker snapped photos of the damage when he got off the plane in Seoul. Ice chunks obliterated the nosecone and hit the leading edges of the wings, grounding the aircraft for repairs.
He said Delta gave him and other passengers 15,000 miles for the scare, but hasn't responded to his request for an explanation.
Delta notified the the National Transportation Safety Board about the incident, but reported no injuries, "no substantial damage" to the aircraft and no airframe penetration, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said. The incident is not under investigation, he added. He declined to provide more information.
Delta spokespeople this week said they were not immediately able to provide more information about the incident.
The damaged plane's replacement, Boeing 747-451 (26477/1206) N671US, was also a Northwest Airlines jet, which Delta retired in 2014. Since then it's been parked at an aircraft "boneyard" in the Arizona desert until Sunday night, when it flew to Minneapolis.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines no longer schedules regular 747 passenger service through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP/KMSP), its biggest hub after its headquarters, but flies 747s through the airport occasionally to handle high passenger volumes, for private charters and aircraft maintenance.
About a dozen Delta 747s are in operation, with all scheduled to be retired by 2017.
Northwest Airlines was the first carrier to own a Boeing 747-400. Delta's 747-400s carry 376 passengers and cruise at about 560 mph. The double-decker jet has four turbofan engines on the wings and a range of nearly 7,400 miles.
The damaged 747 was still in Seoul as of Tuesday, possibly only getting the necessary repairs to fly back to the U.S. and directly to the boneyard.
Delta has a Federal Aviation Administration ferry permit to fly damaged or otherwise un-airworthy aircraft for repairs or salvage in the U.S. as long as they can still fly safely, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
Based on its age, the 747 was probably worth about $8.5 million before incurring the damage, according to George Dimitroff, head of valuations at Flightglobal in New York.
That estimate could vary from around $6 million to $10 million based on the maintenance condition of the aircraft and its engines, he emailed, and the insured valued "could have been totally different."
(Jim Hammerand - Minneapolis / St Paul Business Journal)

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