Jetstar under investigation from ATSB and CASA over two serious incidents

written by australianaviation.com.au | December 4, 2015
A file image of A321 VH-VWW. (Andy McWatters)
A file image of a Jetstar Airbus A321. (Andy McWatters)

The ATSB and CASA are investigating two Jetstar incidents relating to passenger loading and weight calculations, including one that “required an almost full aft control input” to get the aircraft airborne on takeoff.

The first incident related to a Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Perth on October 29 operated by Airbus A321 VH-VWT, where the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the pilot flying noticed the aircraft was “nose-heavy” during the takeoff roll and almost full aft control input was required to raise the aircraft’s nose.

“Once airborne, the flightcrew requested the cabin crew to confirm the passenger numbers and seating locations,” the ATSB said in its notification about the investigation on its website.

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“The flightcrew re-entered the updated information into the flight management computer and identified that the aircraft was outside the aircraft’s loading limits for takeoff and landing. Passengers were relocated within the aircraft cabin to return the aircraft to within allowable limits for the remainder of the flight and landing.”

The second incident concerned Jetstar Airbus A320 VH-VQG, which took off from Brisbane Airport on October 19 bound for Melbourne with 16 more passengers than had been advised to the pilots, meaning it was 1,328kg heavier than the weight used to calculate the takeoff and landing data for the flight. This required a recalculation of the aircraft’s landing data prior to descent into Melbourne.

“The ATSB has commenced an investigation into these two aircraft loading events, which will include interviews with the flight and ground operations crews; a review of the Jetstar internal procedures regarding aircraft loading; [and] a review of preventative- and recovery-type risk controls for aircraft loading,” the ATSB said.

The ATSB investigation was expected to be completed in October 2016.

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Separately, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has launched its own probe into the two Jetstar flights, which would run in parallel to the ATSB’s investigation and focus on “regulatory compliance and relevant ongoing safety of flight issues”.

“This investigation is focusing on the root causes of the passenger loading errors, relevant systems and processes and Jetstar’s subsequent actions,” CASA said in a statement.

“The travelling public can be assured CASA will take all appropriate actions to ensure Jetstar maintains robust and appropriate systems and processes to ensure passenger loading mistakes do not recur.”

Jetstar said it was assisting the ATSB with its investigation.

“Since these incidents took place in October, we have put additional measures in place to check our flights have been loaded correctly and that aircraft weight and balance is properly accounted for,” a Jetstar spokesperson told the ABC.

“We’ve had no flights operate with this type of error since we introduced these measures.”

CASA said it was “overseeing the changes Jetstar have made in relation to passenger loading and aircraft weight and balance following the October incidents”.

Jetstar Airbus A320 VH-VQG featuring Snoopy, Charlie Brown and friends. (Brian Wilkes)
A file image of Jetstar Airbus A320 VH-VQG taken on November 30 2015. (Brian Wilkes)

13 Comments

  • Bill

    says:

    Sounds like the loadsheet was a bit out with 16 extras! Surely the seat allocation system prevents the issue of incorrect balance?

  • Bob

    says:

    These sought of things happened prior to the introduction of check in, loading and weight and balance computer systems. The only way to make an error was either to load the baggage freight and mail incorrectly or add passengers to the aircraft manually without going through the DCS

    The old load controllers use to be able have a mental picture of aircraft takeoff weight and where the C of G should be approximately. If it didn’t look right you recheck the figures to make sure no mistake had been made. They also received better training

    Nowadays staff have been taught just to enter the figures into the computer, without knowing the effects of any mistakes. Even crews don’t seem to work out their mental figures to ensure they have the correct takeoff and landing figures which they gave to enter into the FMS

    Not only should the authorities be concerned, the airlines should have better trainings to their load controllers and crews to ensure no incidents or worse accidents happen

  • Luke

    says:

    Very disappointing.

  • Damon

    says:

    Wow, always thought JetStar would go trouble free.

  • Tony

    says:

    I looked up cg limits for a321 and a320 when these incidents were first reported. I have noticed empty rows of seats on Jetstar with notices displayed that these seats empty to balance aircraft.. It still surprises me that large passenger aircraft are certified with such critical tight cg limitations. After take off the cg limit is less critical as the increased airflow over the tail plane gives greater control. Also increased risk of tail strikes when cg limits exceeded. Maybe larger control surfaces should have been mandated?

  • James

    says:

    From a reliable source, this was mainly due to the automated check-in readers at the gate. They weren’t properly storing every passenger that was scanned. So with 180pax onboard the computers somehow dropped a few, reading only 160 pax scanned through the gate. So the crew worked with the print-out showing 160pax as there was no reason to question it and no history of the computer scanners doing this before. Sometimes even with 180 pax forecast, its not unusual to drop 10-20 passengers, for whatever reason, especially if you’re delayed and pax are missing connecting flights. The crew did everything right.

  • Raymond

    says:

    “Passengers were relocated within the aircraft cabin to return the aircraft to within allowable limits for the remainder of the flight and landing.”

    So what happens when all seats or most seats are occupied? Start moving people around based on body size?

  • TrashHauler

    says:

    @Raymond- when all seats are occupied the aeroplane will be well within CofG range. That’s what it is designed for- a full load. @Tony- The aircraft have a very generous CofG range. Remember when you move even one passenger at the extreme front or rear of the plane it has a very long moment arm.

  • One has to question the removal of “Red Caps” who had come through the system to be Grade 3 clerks. If you put crap into any computer it will produce erroneous outputs.
    The “Red Cap” knew his/her aircraft and flight loadings and had a feeling for what was right.
    That is why in some jurisdictions the Dispatcher is a licenced position. The whole developed when the former Qantas, Ansett, Australian structures went out of the Traffic function.
    For safety sake maybe CASA has to regulate the Dispatcher and not rely on computers particularly when the pressure is on for fast turnarounds. Cheap investment in safety!

  • Peter

    says:

    I am curious to know how much the forward CoG was exceeded by on the A321. The comment, “required an almost full aft control input”, indicates it to be significant.
    Standing at the front of the cabin looking aft, I wonder how obvious it was that the aircraft could be in, or at the very least approaching this scenario, due to the passenger seating configuration.
    An appreciation of the big picture (airmanship) may well have avoided this incident if the question was asked. An excellent case study for future CRM training events.

  • Chris Karpow

    says:

    …& the ATSB investigation is expected to be completed by Oct 2016. – Now that is either a very slack outfit or an extremely detailed investigation….

  • Adian P

    says:

    The first part of a pre-flight check is to look at your aircraft when approaching it to see if it is siting right.
    How many crew just use the aerobridge.

    How difficult would it be to put load cells on undercarriages.

  • Andrew Haken

    says:

    Alan Joyce first CEO of Jetstar, just get bums on seats, if not enough bums cancel the flight. We don’t run a schedule just get bums on seats, any seats. Takes a lot of work to get the industry nickname Sh*tstar.

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