Davis Trackhire supports aircraft recovery at Leeds Bradford Airport.

At 3.30pm on the 20th of October 2023, Davis Trackhire received a telephone call from Leeds Bradford Airport tentatively requesting our support with an aircraft being stuck on soft ground. A Boeing 737-800 weighing over 50 tonnes had overshot the runway due to severe weather conditions.

This job had to be done quickly, to keep the airport from being closed for a considerable time. We received another call at 4pm confirming requirement for our services and Phill Wright, Davis Trackhire’s UK Operations Manager, began travelling to the airport. On the journey to the location, we made calls to our logistics department to have additional crews and panels on stand-by. At this stage we didn’t know how many panels or crews were needed until we assessed the site.

The plane had veered to the side, off the runway, and the wheels had sunken approximately 2ft into the soft ground. After assessing the site, we mobilised two trackway installation crews with 75 panels each to the airport, along with two Project Supervisors to assist with the intricate operation. Once on site we provided the client with health and safety documentation and RAMS, before forumulating a work plan with all parties on site. The aim was to reopen the airport the following morning.

Our trackway and service solution

Our aim was to dig out and create a steady ramp in front of each wheel of the plane. We used a tracked machine to dig out beneath the front wheel but the rear wheels were difficult to access with any machinery so we had no choice but to dig out the rear ones by hand. This was very difficult in the dark and especially with the poor and wet weather conditions. Once the front and rear wheels were successfully dug out, we started to form steady ramps in front of each wheel by installing temporary roadway panels. The back wheels were very difficult to access with the lorry loader crane so with the help of a machine bucket, we managed to position the panels safely beneath, creating steady ramps underneath all the wheels.

At 3:30am in the morning, a temporary access road was successfully formed all around the plane. This allowed recovery trucks to position themselves and connect winch cables to all three of the plane’s wheels. The plane was then pulled onto the panels at a steady pace, allowing us to install more panels for it to reach the hard standing runway.

During the winch operation, we had many panels to re-site between each move. A second meeting was held by all parties at 4am and it was decided that the airport’s opening time was re-scheduled until 2pm Saturday. Eventually, at 10am, the plane was back on the runway! The plane was moved to a safe area at around 11:45am so the final recovery of the temporary access road could be completed.

This was a super difficult operation due to the dark, and the wet, windy conditions. The plane had sunk 2ft into the ground and the engines were almost touching the ground below. It was important that during the winch operation, the plane did not sink any more. The temporary access road was used to distribute weight and prevent further sinking.

The lorry loader cranes were working remarkably close to the plane at times and it was crucial to have a banksman guiding the crane and working closely with the crane operator to install the panels safely without damaging the plane.
Phill Wright – Davis Trackhire’s UK Operations Manager
The Davis Track Hire team played a pivotal part in successfully recovering the aircraft for TUI flight TOM3551 which moved off the runway while landing at Leeds Bradford Airport on 20 October 2023.

We are grateful to the team for their swift response to our call for assistance and their support and provision of metal flooring plates which enabled the aircraft to be moved back onto the runway.
Richard Duncan – Head of Airfield Operations Leeds Bradford Airport