Jetstar procedures under investigation after planes took off too heavy

JQ plane 4 DecJetstar's procedures for calculating the weight of its aircraft are under review by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau after two of its planes took off with more passengers than had been expected by the pilots in October. On October 29, the pilot flying a Jetstar plane from Melbourne to Perth noticed the aircraft was nose-heavy as it was taking off and was forced to pull back on the controls nearly to the limits in order to raise the aircraft's nose.

Once the A321 was airborne, the pilots asked the cabin crew to confirm the passenger numbers and seating locations. The updated information was entered into the computer and the pilots found the aircraft was outside the loading limits for take-off and landing. Passengers were then moved to other seats throughout the cabin to return the aircraft to within the allowable limits for the remainder of the flight and the landing.

READ MORE Schoolkids tip balance of Qantas plane

Just 10 days earlier, an A320 flight from Brisbane to Melbourne took off with 16 more passengers than had been advised to the pilots, with the aircraft about 1328 kilograms heavier than the take-off weight used to calculate take-off and landing data for the flight. The landing data was recalculated prior to the descent in Melbourne.

The ATSB has deemed the incidents "serious", although there were no injuries in either case. It has begun an investigation that will include interviews with the flight and ground operations crews, a review of Jetstar's internal procedures regarding aircraft loading and a review of preventative and recovery-type risk controls for aircraft loading.

The full investigation is not expected to be completed until October 2016. Comment is being sought from Jetstar and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Calculating the correct weight of an aircraft is a very important safety issue as incorrect inputs can lead to problems in the pilot's ability to control the aircraft.

In 2003, an Air Midwest Beechcraft 1900D crashed in the US in part due to higher than expected weight on take-off, although an issue with the plane's control cables was also contributing factor. All 21 passengers and crew on board died in the crash.

Last month, the ATSB issued a final report into an incident at Jetstar's parent, Qantas, that also involved an incorrect take-off weight being entered, in that case on a Boeing 737 flying from Sydney to Darwin.

Data entry errors by the pilots led to the take-off weight imputed into the computer being 10 tonnes lower than the actual weight. That resulted in the take-off speed and engine thrust settings being too low and the aircraft contacting the runway briefly in a "tail strike" incident.

 - Sydney Morning Herald