Can commercial planes fly on just one engine?

Well, it depends on the plane but, yes – the majority of them can. If we look at twin-engined commercial aircraft (which account for most of the commercial aircraft in the world) they are designed to be able to keep flying in the event of an engine failure.

Thankfully aircraft engines rarely fail but if they do, twin-engined aircraft can still fly (and even take-off) quite safely on the one remaining engine. The plane wouldn’t be able to climb to as high an altitude as with two engines and would be far less efficient – so, because of this, the normal procedure would be to land at the nearest suitable airport and the aircraft taken out of service for repair.
Pilots routinely train in simulators flying scenarios with engine failures so if the unlikely event ever presents itself, it will be second nature for them to deal with. It’s worth noting that the majority of pilots will go through their whole flying career without ever having to deal with an engine failure.

So what about planes with 3 or 4 engines?

Well firstly, the good thing about having more than 2 engines is that if one fails you still have more than one left and the chances of a second one failing are so rare that most planes only have 2 engines to begin with.

But could they fly on just one if they had to?

Well a 3 engined aircraft (such as a 727 or DC-10) could still fly on just one engine with very limited climb capability but enough to probably get it to an airport for a safe landing.
A 4 engined aircraft (such as a 747 or A380) would have trouble maintaining altitude on one engine but would be able to reduce its rate of descent enough to probably facilitate a landing.
Again however, these scenarios are completely hypothetical as the chances of a second or even third engine failing are extremely remote.

What happens if the engine is on fire?

Modern engines on commercial aircraft have built in fire suppression systems that can be activated in case of an engine fire. This system also isolates all electrical, hydraulic, air and fuel lines from the engine to prevent any further damage.

 

As always – any questions, drop us a line at hello@askthepilots.com or comment below.

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