A passenger jet carrying 163 passengers and nine crew cleared the end of a runway by just ten feet after a software glitch allowed it to take off using too little power. 

The TUI Boeing 737-800 was taking off from Bristol Airport’s  1.2-mile runway 9 to Gran Canaria on March 4 when it struggled to take off. 

The 15-year-old jet took off with just 260 metres (853ft) of runway remaining, clearing the end of the tarmac at a height of just 10 feet. It then passed over the nearby A38 road at less than 100 feet. 

When the wheels of the aircraft finally left the ground, it was travelling at around 150kts – meaning it would have run out of runway less than three seconds later.  

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport is investigating the incident which it describes as ‘serious’. They have released a special warning to airlines using the Boeing 737-800 next generation series about the software problem which jeopardised the safety of the flight. 

The report said Boeing were aware of the software glitch before the incident which saw the aircraft struggling to get into the air.  

According to the AAIB report: ‘A Boeing 737-800 completed a takeoff from Runway 09 at Bristol Airport with insufficient thrust to meet regulated performance.’

Aviation experts acknowledge that aircraft taking off with insufficient thrust risk stalling and crashing to the ground.  

The Tui Boeing 737-800, pictured, only cleared the end of the runway at a height of 10ft and passed over the A38 at less than 100ft as it lumbered into the air due to the software glitch which selected an 'insufficient thrust' setting

The Tui Boeing 737-800, pictured, only cleared the end of the runway at a height of 10ft and passed over the A38 at less than 100ft as it lumbered into the air due to the software glitch which selected an ‘insufficient thrust’ setting

The aircraft's flight management computer logged 11 faults with the jet's autothrottle system

The aircraft’s flight management computer logged 11 faults with the jet’s autothrottle system

The Air Accident Investigation Branch's preliminary investigation found the aircraft's acceleration performance was significantly worse than other aircraft. The two red lines on the chart show the average performance of 99.7 per cent  of other B737s at Bristol Airport

The Air Accident Investigation Branch’s preliminary investigation found the aircraft’s acceleration performance was significantly worse than other aircraft. The two red lines on the chart show the average performance of 99.7 per cent  of other B737s at Bristol Airport

The report states that the aircraft’s autothrottle system disengaged when the crew selected takeoff mode. Instead of the required 92.8pc of thrust needed to safely take off, the aircraft lumbered down runway using just 84.5pc. 

Neither pilot noticed the potentially fatal lack of power needed to safely take off.

A review of problems on the affected flight showed 11 errors – many of those were related to the aircraft’s autothrottle system. 

The data showed the system, which is designed to reduce the workload of the flight crew, disengaged twice on the flight.  

Performance data collated by the AAIB comparing the flight to other take offs from Bristol Airport showed its acceleration was significantly slower than 99.7 per cent of other aircraft of the same model departing the same airport. 

According to the AAIB the autothrottle system on a Boeing 737-800 can control the thrust from takeoff to landing. 

Investigators asked Boeing about their autothrottle system who admitted they were aware of a ‘long history of nuisance disconnects during takeoff mode engagements’. 

The AAIB were able to download the aircraft Flight Data Recorder black box which showed how poorly the jet performed while taking offD

The AAIB were able to download the aircraft Flight Data Recorder black box which showed how poorly the jet performed while taking offD

However, when this disconnects are investigated, ‘usually, subsequent functionality checks on the system find no faults’. 

Boeing said earlier versions of the system can disconnect when a button is pressed by the flight crew during their normal take off procedure. 

According to the AAIB report: ‘The manufacturer recommends that any operators of the 737NG who are affected by these disconnects should retrofit their aircraft with the newer model of ASM (autothrottle servo motor) and associated Flight Control Computer software. 

The AAIB report said the cockpit voice recorder on the jet only saved the last two hours of the flight so what was said between the two pilots was erased and overwritten by the time they had arrived at Las Palmas airport. 

However, investigators were able to retrieve the Flight Data Recorder – the Black Box – which provided them with vital performance data from the aircraft. 

This incident is the latest in a string of worrying safety issues which have afflicted Boeing aircraft in the past decade. 

Federal prosecutors are considering prosecuting the manufacturer over claims it violated a settlement that allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution after two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max aircraft more than five years ago. 

Last month, the US Justice Department told a federal judge about the possible breach.  

It is now up to the Justice Department (DOJ) to decide whether to file charges against Boeing. Prosecutors will tell the court no later than today how they plan to proceed, the department said.

New 737 Max jets crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia, killing 346 people. Boeing reached a £1.97 billion settlement with the Justice Department in January 2021 to avoid prosecution on a single charge of fraud — misleading federal regulators who approved the plane. Boeing blamed the deception on two relatively low-level employees.

In a letter filed on last month in federal court in Texas, Glenn Leon, head of the Justice Department criminal division’s fraud section, said Boeing violated terms of the settlement by failing to make promised changes to detect and prevent violations of federal anti-fraud laws.

The determination means that Boeing could be prosecuted ‘for any federal criminal violation of which the United States has knowledge’, including the charge of fraud that the company hoped to avoid with the settlement, the Justice Department said.

However, it is not clear whether the government will prosecute Boeing.

‘The Government is determining how it will proceed in this matter,’ the Justice Department said in the court filing.

Boeing will have until June 13 to respond the government’s allegation, and the department said it will consider the company’s explanation ‘in determining whether to pursue prosecution’.

Boeing Co, which is based in Arlington, Virginia, disputed the Justice Department’s finding.

‘We believe that we have honored the terms of that agreement, and look forward to the opportunity to respond to the Department on this issue,’ a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement.

‘As we do so, we will engage with the Department with the utmost transparency, as we have throughout the entire term of the agreement, including in response to their questions following the Alaska Airlines 1282 accident.’

Boeing has come under renewed scrutiny since that Alaska Airlines flight in January, when a door plug blew out of a 737 Max, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the jetliner.

The company is under multiple investigations into the blowout and its manufacturing quality. The FBI has told passengers from the flight that they might be victims of a crime.

Prosecutors said they will meet on May 31 with families of passengers who died in the two Max crashes. Family members were angry and disappointed after a similar meeting last month.

Paul Cassell, a lawyer who represents families of passengers in the second crash, said the Justice Department’s determination that Boeing breached the settlement terms is ‘a positive first step, and for the families, a long time coming’.

Investigations into the crashes pointed to a flight-control system that Boeing added to the Max without telling pilots or airlines. Boeing downplayed the significance of the system, then did not overhaul it until after the second crash.

After secret negotiations, the government agreed not to prosecute Boeing on a charge of defrauding the United States by deceiving regulators about the flight system.

The settlement included a £192.4 million) fine, a £395 million fund for victim compensation, and nearly £1.4 billion to airlines whose Max jets were grounded for nearly two years.

Boeing has faced civil lawsuits, congressional investigations and massive damage to its business since the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. 

The manufacturer’s outgoing CEO Dave Calhoun will testify before a US Senate panel later this month to answer questions about safety and production issues at the aircraft manufacturer. 

The June 18 appearance in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations follows an April hearing, in which four whistleblowers alleged there was safety problems in the production of three of the four commercial planes currently produced by Boeing — the 737 MAX, the 787 Dreamliner and the 777.

‘I look forward to Mr. Calhoun’s testimony, which is a necessary step in meaningfully addressing Boeing’s failures, regaining public trust, and restoring the company’s central role in the American economy and national defense,’ said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the subcommittee.

A spokesperson for TUI told MailOnline: ‘We have worked closely with the authorities to provide all available information. The AAIB recommendations and learnings resulting from this take-off will support the whole aviation sector and other airlines. 

‘The safety of our passengers and crew is always our highest priority.’

MailOnline has approached the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Boeing for a comment about this most recent incident.  

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