The Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a preliminary report into structural damage suffered by a Virgin Australia ATR 72 on a flight from Canberra to Sydney on February 20.
The aircraft – registered VH-FVR – was operating a RPT service into Sydney when the crew experienced a possible over speed event while on descent which resulted in a pitch-disconnect of the horizontal stabiliser and differential control inputs from the operating flightcrew.
Upon landing in Sydney, the aircraft was grounded for inspection which was carried out by torchlight at night, but no trace of any structural damage was found.
On February 25 – after the aircraft had flown 13 more sectors – the pilot reported a possible bird strike while on descent into Albury, and ordered an inspection of the aircraft upon landing. During this inspection damage to the horizontal and vertical stabiliser fairing was noted, and a subsequent inspection linked the damage to the February 20 differential control event.
ATR engineers inspected the aircraft and found broken carbon plies, cracked joint sealant, deformations, and minor damage to the rudder, all of which it said were consistent with an overstress condition, and recommended replacement of the horizontal stabiliser, elevators, and vertical stabiliser.
In a brief statement, Virgin Australia said: “The safety of our guests, crew and aircraft is our number one priority at Virgin Australia and we have strong protocols in place to ensure the safety of our operations is maintained to the highest standard. While this is an isolated issue, we are working with the ATSB, the aircraft manufacturer and our maintenance provider to identify what has occurred. As the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for us to comment in any further detail at this stage.”