The IALPA Wright Brothers’ Award 2005

The pilots of an aircraft which narrowly avoided disaster after a catastrophic engine failure in 1985, will be honoured tonight at a ceremony in the Conrad Hotel in Dublin. At the annual Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) Dinner, Captains Michael Dalton and Gerard Blacoe will be presented with the IALPA Wright Brothers’ Award in recognition of their professionalism and distinguished airmanship.

As their Boeing 737 aircraft took off from Dublin airport on December 7th 1985, it struck a large flock of black headed gulls. The left hand engine suffered immediate and catastrophic failure, leaving the engine dangling beneath the wing. The pilots struggled to overcome the severely degraded flying characteristics of the crippled aircraft and succeeded in climbing the aircraft to a safe height. Such was their concern as to the integrity of the aircraft that they took the extraordinary step of briefing the cabin crew for a possible landing in open territory. The two pilots worked together to manage the unfolding situation and carefully steered the aircraft back to Dublin Airport where they executed a safe landing just five minutes after the initial incident. They safely stopped the aircraft on the runway and having assessed that the flight was no longer in danger, they cancelled the planned emergency evacuation, thereby saving the passengers from any further trauma or possible injury.

One of the passengers aboard the aircraft was veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne

“ There is little doubt in my mind that the actions of Captain Dalton and his co-pilot Mr. Blacoe saved the lives of all those aboard that plane that day “

According to IALPA Director of Safety and Technical, Captain Conor Nolan, the details of the “Dalton/Blacoe Incident” are well known to all Irish pilots.

“Every Airline pilot is aware of what happened that day. It is used as a training scenario all the time. Before every take-off flight crews brief each other and mentally rehearse the responses required if an engine fails at a critical point. We all hope that if it happens it will be what we trained for, unlike what happened to these pilots, who were faced with a situation that no pilot at the time had been exposed to.”

The IALPA Wright Brothers Award is intended to give recognition to individuals who have made a unique, pioneering or otherwise noteworthy contribution to aviation and/or the piloting profession. It was inaugurated in 2003 to mark the celebrations for the centenary of the first powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine by Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Mr. Byrne will present the Wright Brothers’ Award to the two pilots at the ceremony tonight. Also present at the dinner will be Minister for Transport Mr. Martin Cullen and almost two hundred guests from all facets of Irish Aviation.

Background Information

Birds represent a significant threat to Air Safety. The first-ever bird strike is believed to have occurred in Dayton, Ohio in 1908 (the pilot was non other than Orville Wright). Over the years several large transport aircraft have crashed as a result of bird strikes. The worst accident occurred in 1960 when a Lockheed Electra crashed in Boston after encountering a flock of starlings just after becoming airborne. Of the 72 persons on board, 62 died and 9 were injured.

Because of incidents such as that described above, airports have had to become much more aware and proactive in the control of birds in the airport environment. As a direct consequence of this accident, Dublin Airport invited a consultant Ornithologist to join their Bird Hazard committee. Both the Dublin Airport and National Bird Hazard committee carry out vital work in controlling and reducing the impact of birds at Irish Airports.

IALPA is considered a world leader in the field of Bird Hazard threat mitigation at Airports since their role in the successful defeat of a planning application for a refuse dump close to Dublin Airport in the 90’s . The Association continue to be represented on the various Bird Hazard groups and are active in monitoring development close to airports that might contribute to any increase in bird activity.

All queries to IALPA