Burst tyres cause discomfort, not danger

MALAYSIA - When the tyres of two different planes blew out over the weekend - one during take-off and the other, when landing - the issue of passenger safety was thrust into the spotlight.

Relax, aviation experts told The New Paper, such incidents are not unusual.

Mr Gerry Soejatman, an independent aviation consultant based in Jakarta, Indonesia, said that tyre bursts happen on a "regular basis".

"They are usually non-news items in the past, but in this day and age of social media, people tend to report these, and citizen monitoring of aviation is rising," he said.

He added that there was no increase in the number of tyre-related aviation incidents.

On Saturday, a Singapore Airlines flight SQ322, had to turn back to Changi Airport due to an air-conditioning fault.

Upon landing, the tyres deflated as they were not designed to support the combined weight of the London-bound plane and the full fuel tank.

The next day, a Bangalore-bound Malaysia Airlines flight MH192 was told to turn back 15 minutes after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport due to a gear malfunction.

Tyre debris was found on the runway.

Mr Paul Yap, who heads the aviation department at Temasek Polytechnic, said: "With any complex equipment like an aircraft, mechanical faults are bound to happen."

If pilots think that the faults may jeopardise the safety or comfort of the passengers, they either turn back to their home base if they are not too far off, or find the nearest available landing point, he explained.

"Some of the more common problems could be an engine or navigation system failure. It could be human factors as well, like unwell passengers or crew members," Mr Yap said.

"People are a little bit more sensitive to such incidents due to the timing of the (MH370) crash.

"When SQ had cabin pressure issues before, nobody batted an eyelid."

One of the theories behind Malaysia Airlines flight MH370's disappearance on March 8 involves landing gears that had burst on take-off before setting off a catastrophic fire on the plane while it was at cruising altitude.

Pilots would have been trained to deal with situations like burst tyres in flight simulators, Mr Yap said.

So while the concern is understandable, experts asked for more trust to be placed in the skills of the airline crew.

Said Mr Yap: "This is why pilots are paid so much. It's for days when the aircraft doesn't perform like it's supposed to, and you need human intervention to handle it."

Assistant Professor Terence Fan, an aviation expert at Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business, agreed.

In most cases, rather than a compromise on safety, deflated or burst tyres will translate to discomfort for the passengers.


This means bumpy landings, or in the case of SQ322, passengers disembarking onto the tarmac as the aircraft could not move further.

Mr Yap listed some of the common reasons tyres are likely to burst or deflate.

"First, it depends on how hard the landing is, which is affected by the weight of the aircraft.

"Second, there could be foreign objects on the runway that could puncture the tyres.

"Third, when the temperature of the tarmac is too high, it could cause the air in the tyres to expand too much, causing them to burst," he said.


This article was published on April 23 in The New Paper.

Get The New Paper for more stories.