On January 7, a LATAM Brazil Airbus A320-200 suffered a wildlife strike while departing from Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo. The aircraft encountered a capybara on the runway.
What happened next?
The Airbus A320-200 has a registration PR-MYK. LATAM Brazil was using this aircraft for a flight from Sao Paulo to Pessoa. As The Aviation Herald describes the incident, the plane was accelerating for takeoff on runway 27R. It was already above V1 speed when it hit a capybara running wild inside the airport.
The airplane was unable to stop at that moment, so it continued with the takeoff. It climbed to 9,000 feet and started burning off fuel before landing again on Guarulhos. PR-MYK was in the air for about 65 minutes. In the meantime, the local airport authorities closed the 27R runway to clean it.
Onboard, there were no injuries due to the incident. The aircraft hasn’t flown since the incident as LATAM Brazil is currently inspecting it.
A brief history of PR-MYK
This Airbus A320-200 is ten years old. Its serial number is MSN4544. Initially, it was delivered to TAM, in December 2010. As we know, TAM was a Brazilian airline; it merged with Chilean LAN to create the South American powerhouse of LATAM in 2012.
In the last few days before the capybara incident, PR-MYK was busy serving domestic routes for LATAM. As reported by FlightRadar24.com, the same day of the incident, the aircraft operated three more flights. It flew from Sao Paulo to Brasilia. Then it flew from the Brazilian capital to Cuiaba and then to Sao Paulo again. After that, it was supposed to go to Pessoa when the incident happened.
Why didn’t the pilots abort the take-off?
A few days ago, a similar incident happened in Mexico. An Aeromexico’s Boeing 787-800 experienced a bird strike into engine one while taking off. The aircraft was operating a flight between Cancun and Mexico City.
As can be seen in the video, the pilots decided to abort the take-off. This was possible because they hadn’t yet reached V1 speed, unlike LATAM Brazil’s pilots.
So, what’s V1 speed?
As John Cox wrote for USA Today,
“V1 is the speed by which a pilot must have decided to abort if they are going to stop in the runway.”
It is not as simple as a standard speed, as a pilot must consider other things like runway length, obstacles, temperature, and the weight of the airplane.
For instance, Aeromexico’s B787 had a speed of 60 knots and had traveled less than half of the runway when it had the bird strike. Meanwhile, LATAM’s A320 easily surpassed a speed of 150 knots and was unable to stop.
It is not very common that we hear of a wildlife strike not related to a bird. A capybara, for instance, is a giant rodent native to South America. It can grow to 62 cm tall and weigh up to 66 kg. This year, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 hit and killed a brown bear while landing.
According to Skybrary, one mammal that regularly features in aircraft incidents is the deer. Yearly there are over 40 deer strikes in North America, although they mostly happen on private flights in small airstrips. The Federal Aviation Administration reported that wildlife strikes had increased steadily from about 1,800 in 1990 to 16,000 in 2018.
For instance, between 2012 and 2019, there are ten incidents where an aircraft hit an American Alligator in the US. At least five airlines were involved in these incidents (Sun Country, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, WestJet, and Southwest). Between 1996 and 2019, there were 50 incidents in the US involving armadillos.