Engine Failure: Causes of Double Engine Failures in Twin-Engine Aircraft

Engine Failure | Causes of Double Engine Failure

Understanding Rare Incidents: Causes of Double Engine Failures in Twin-Engine Aircraft

In the realm of aviation, experiencing a double engine failure on a twin-engine aircraft is an extremely improbable event. While the overall engine failure rate has significantly dropped over the years, unexpected incidents still occur. In this article, we delve into the potential causes of double engine failures and explore a few notable cases where this rare phenomenon occurred.

The Rarity of Double Engine Failures:

Modern aircraft boast impressive engine reliability, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) citing a jet engine failure rate of one in every 375,000 flight hours. General Electric's GE90 engine takes it a step further, reporting an even more remarkable rate of one engine shutdown per one million flight hours. This stands as a testament to the advancements in aviation technology and safety.

Historically, engine failures were more commonplace, leading to the necessity of four engines for transoceanic flights. The introduction of ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) rules in the 1980s marked a turning point. As twin-engine operations proved safer and more reliable, aircraft were granted the capability to fly further from diversion airports, with current ratings reaching up to 370 minutes.

Despite the rarity of engine failures, it's crucial for pilots to be well-prepared for any emergency. Twin-engine aircraft are designed to glide safely for some distance in the event of a dual engine failure at cruising altitude. However, challenges arise when closer to the ground, as exemplified by the remarkable landing of US Airways 1549 in the Hudson River in January 2009.

Potential Causes of Dual Engine Failures:

1. Fuel Issues - Insufficient Fuel or Icing:

One of the most apparent ways to lose both engines is running out of fuel. While meticulous fuel planning is standard, disruptions, bad weather, and diversions can lead to fuel emergencies. Additionally, an obstruction in the fuel supply, such as ice formation, can affect both engines simultaneously. The 2008 crash of British Airways Flight 38 at Heathrow exemplifies this, where ice crystals in the fuel caused a blockage, rendering both engines unresponsive.

2. Bird Strikes:

Bird strikes pose a continuous threat to aircraft, and while they often affect a single engine, a substantial bird flock can cause a double engine failure. The renowned "Miracle on the Hudson" landing of US Airways 1549 serves as a vivid example. Striking a large flock of Canada geese on take-off led to the shutdown of both engines, prompting Captain Chelsey Sullenberger to skillfully land the Airbus A320 on the Hudson River.

3. Pilot Error:

   In high-stress emergency situations, pilots may make critical errors, such as shutting down the wrong engine. Despite changes in procedures to minimize such occurrences, instances like the Kegworth air disaster in the UK in 1989 highlight the potential consequences of pilot error. In this tragedy, misidentifying the source of cabin air supply resulted in a fatal crash during an emergency landing.


Understanding the potential causes of double engine failures underscores the importance of ongoing training and rigorous safety measures in the aviation industry. As technology advances, the aviation community continues to learn from past incidents to enhance overall safety and prevent rare but critical failures.

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