Can a commercial double-aisle jet aircraft (e.g., 777, A330) land safely with a full fuel tank (minus the fuel spent on taxing and takeoff)? Has that ever happened?
Can a wide body airliner land with a full fuel tank?
Yes! But it is safer to land an aircraft below its published MLW.
Using the B777-200 as an example.
Maximum take off weight: 545,000 lb / 247,200 kg
Maximum landing weight: 445,000 lb / 201,840 kg
So this particular aircraft may have to drop roughly 46,000 Kg of weight if taking off at its maximum before it can land safely. That's not to say it's impossible to land without doing so, but it's certainly not advisable.
When an emergency presents itself, what is "advisable" is getting on the ground as quickly as possible, and if that means landing overweight then so be it. There have been plenty of times when an overweight landing has caused no damage - and even if the aircraft is damaged by an overweight emergency landing, that's still often a better outcome for the people on board than would be the case if the aircraft waited to get below its MLW before landing.
However, with that said, just because you are taking off with a full load of fuel it does not imply that you must be at MTOW. You could be taking off with a full load of fuel but no cargo/passengers, in which case it is entirely possible that you may be below MLW. And in which case the answer would be yes, it's entirely possible to land with full fuel tanks.
They can land safely with full tanks but they will need the gear checked before they can take off again. It's not unheard of, if you search for "overweight" on avherald you can see a list of them They will be marked as
For example this flight landed with a weight of 523t while the max landing weight of that aircraft is 394t.
If possible they will prefer to dump fuel or stay in the air to burn it off.
If there's a serious time-sensitive emergency, landing overweight is likely to be a far better plan than waiting around while burning off or jettisoning fuel. As others have noted, an inspection, which involves time and money, is required after an overweight landing, as it stresses components, but aircraft are designed with structural tolerances to allow such a landing when necessary.
You might be interested in reading this Boeing AERO article (from 2007) on factors to consider when deciding whether to land overweight or to delay landing until below maximum landing weight:
Landing overweight and fuel jettisoning are both considered safe procedures: There are no accidents on record attributed to either cause. In the preamble to Amendment 25-18 to FAR Part 25, relative to fuel jettison, the FAA stated, “There has been no adverse service experience with airplanes certificated under Part 25 involved in overweight landings.” Furthermore, service experience indicates that damage due to overweight landing is extremely rare.
Obviously, landing at weights above the maximum design landing weight reduces the normal performance margins. An overweight landing with an engine inoperative or a system failure may be less desirable than landing below maximum landing weight. Yet, delaying the landing with a malfunctioning system or engine failure in order to reduce weight or jettison fuel may expose the airplane to additional system deterioration that can make the situation worse. The pilot in command is in the best position to assess all relevant factors and determine the best course of action.
Ultimately, it's a judgement call where the crew needs to assess the severity of the emergency, the likelihood of the situation to get worse, available runway length, and all other available information to decide whether an overweight landing is the best course of action.
Not a general answer, but in the book Flight Testing of the A380 by Claude Lelaie1, the main test pilot of that aircraft, he clearly states that during the test period, they landed the aircraft several times well over the MLW without any problems.
But, of course, these were test pilots...
The MLW is designed as a general limit that ensures that safe landing will be possible whatever the weather, runway length... and pilot performance! I assume this must be the same for all contemporary airliners.
I recall watching a documentary on the development of one of the newer larger jets - either B777 or A380 in which extreme braking tests were performed as part of the certification process. The test was to evaluate gear/brake performance for either a rejected takeoff at MTOW or overweight landing, using brakes only (no thrust reversers). Heat accumulated in the brakes transferred to the tires (not unexpectedly), either initiating fires or at least overheating them to the point that several burst. Part of the test protocol was that firefighting had to stand by for several minutes before engaging the fires in order to represent a typical response time. It demonstrated that although the aircraft could stop safely and the brakes had the capacity to do so, the amount of heat produced was almost certain to cause damage and posed a significant fire risk.