How Are Airplanes Able to Fly With a Failed Engine?

While a failed engine is an extremely rare incident, airlines have fortified their aircraft and crew protocols against this and many other worst-case scenarios to ensure passengers are always safe. Modern planes are capable of gliding, sometimes for long distances, even without engines. While single engine failures are already extremely rare, it’s even more unlikely that both engines would fail simultaneously. Even the loss of one will not result in a total loss of propulsion.

It’s important to note engine failures are incredibly rare. The FAA estimates an engine failure of about one per 375,000 flight hours. In other words, that’s one jet engine failure for every roughly 43 years of continuous flight time. For comparison, the U.S. has roughly six million reported car crashes every year, which equates to roughly 11 per minute.

Common Causes of Engine Failure

  • Mechanical Failure: Manufacturing defects with the engine or gradual wear and tear with irregular maintenance are the leading – but still rare – cause of engine failure. Sometimes, the mechanical failure will signal itself with a loud bang, but failures are not always dramatic. Still, it can make itself apparent in other ways, such as through pressure fluctuation or engine temperature.
  • Bird Strikes: Birds colliding with aircraft can be hazardous for the engine. Maybe the most well-known example was the 2009 flight that had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.
  • Foreign Object Debris (FOD): Foreign objects slipping into the crevices of the engine, such as debris on the runway or taxiway, can cause damage and increase the risk of failure.
  • Fuel Issues: Issues with the fuel system, such as contamination or incorrect fueling, can impact engine performance.
  • Extreme Weather Conditions: Storms and strong winds can cause severe turbulence, which can challenge the engine’s ability to function optimally.
  • Maintenance Issues: Inadequate maintenance or failing to find and address problems early on during routine checks can lead to engine failure.
  • Exhaustive Use: Nonstop and extraneous engine usage over time can accelerate wear and tear, contributing to engine failure in severe cases.
  • Software or Electronic Failures: Modern engines with an electronic system can experience failure due to a software issue in rare circumstances.
  • Pilot Error: As with anything, there’s always the possibility of human error, such as incorrectly operating engine controls. However, the extensive education, training and continued monitoring pilots undergo in order to fly makes this unlikely.

What’s Keeping the Airplane In the Air?

Multiple Engines

Even if an engine fails, there’s another that can continue to carry the plane. A commercial aircraft has between two and six engines – even most small private jets have at least two engines. These engines operate independently, meaning a problem with one engine won’t affect the others.


The wings of an aircraft allow planes to glide through the wind in the extreme scenario of total engine failure, though the chance of both engines malfunctioning is a near statistical impossibility. Even the most notable recent incident of dual engine failure was caused by external factors rather than a malfunction, and the pilot was still able to glide to the water, making a safe emergency landing with no major injuries.

As long as the aircraft maintains a 36,000-foot altitude, it can glide anywhere from 60 to 100 miles. With every one degree of altitude lost, the plane can glide ten miles forward.

How Can Robust In-Flight Entertainment Technology Help

Advanced in-flight entertainment (IFE) technology can be crucial in an emergency to optimize communication with passengers and crew and keep everyone level-headed. An IFE system can provide real-time information to passengers, providing a straightforward means to explain the next steps as well as provide an estimated time of emergency arrival. Visual guides and step-by-step procedures can be conveyed on seatback tablets to reiterate safety protocols and help passengers understand what everyone needs to be doing.

A much more common way in which a high-quality entertainment system helps skittish flyers is by offering a comforting distraction. Passengers should ideally be able to select entertainment from a vast selection of music, movies and TV shows rather than dwelling on extremely unlikely malfunctions or aviation problems.

Upgrade Your Cabin Technology to Ensure Optimal In-Flight Comfort

At Rosen Aviation, we’ve been engineering custom IFE technology for over 40 years. We’ll help even your most nervous flyers rest comfortably in the air with high-quality displays, protected by a resilient connection. Our technology exceeds the most stringent safety requirements to ensure they help contribute to safe and sustainable in-flight operations.

To learn more about how we can enhance your aircraft, call 1-888-668-4955 or send us a message.