Emirates Flight 407
Tail of A6-ERG after landing
|Date||20 March 2009|
|Summary||Tailstrike on takeoff and runway overrun|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A340-541|
|Flight origin||Auckland International Airport|
|Destination||Dubai International Airport|
Emirates Flight 407 was an Emirates flight flying from Melbourne to Dubai using the Airbus A340-500. On 20 March 2009, the flight failed to take off properly at Melbourne Airport, hitting several structures at the end of the runway before eventually climbing enough to return to the airport for a safe landing. Although no fatalities or injuries resulted from this accident, it was severe enough to be classified by Australian Transport Safety Bureau as a significant event and thereby categorized as an "accident" by the authority.
The scheduled flight departed from Melbourne as planned at 22:30 using the 3,657-metre-long (11,998 ft) Runway 16. However, after exhausting the entire length of the runway, the aircraft failed to become airborne. 1,043 m (3,422 ft) before the end of the runway, travelling at a speed of 270 kilometres per hour (168 mph), the captain ordered the first officer to rotate. As the aircraft pitched upward and failed to leave the ground, the tail section crashed onto the ground and continued to scrape along the runway. According to the crew, the captain took over the controls and applied maximum thrust on all four engines by using the Take-off/Go-around (TOGA) detent. As a result, the aircraft eventually left the ground, but, by 170 m (558 ft) beyond the end of the runway, it was able to achieve an altitude of only 70 cm (2 ft) above the ground. Subsequently, it took out a 200 m (656 ft) stretch of strobe lights at the end of the runway and continued to climb with difficulties. At 350 m (1,148 ft) beyond the end of the runway, the landing gear hit and damaged the 180 cm (6 ft) high localiser antenna array operated by Airservices Australia. At 500 m (1,640 ft) beyond the end of the runway, the aircraft barely missed the 2.24 m (7 ft) tall airport perimeter fence. It was also reported that after clearing the airport perimeter, the aircraft cleared a small brick building by only 50 centimetres (20 in). The aircraft eventually climbed away over Port Phillip Bay. The pilots finished dumping fuel over the bay by 23:27 then they received a report of smoke in the cabin. They requested an immediate return, which ATC granted, and they returned to the airport at 23:36 without further incident.
Despite having tailstrike protection built into the A340-500, it was later determined that the rear pressure bulkhead and the underlying structure were severely damaged during the take-off roll when the pilots attempted to rotate and the tail struck the runway with considerable force. The aircraft also suffered extensive damage to the hull as it scraped along the runway, a large surface having been completely stripped of its external sheet. The accident investigation was performed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). During the investigation, it was discovered that the jet had experienced at least one but possibly three or more tail strikes during previous take-off rolls. The jet was broken down to the underlying ribs or stringers in one area, in a part of the tail structure where the critical rear pressure bulkhead may also have been damaged. A preliminary, and an interim ATSB report suggest that the take-off weight, used to calculate take-off power, was understated by 100 tonnes, when the first officer entered 262.9 instead of 362.9 (tonnes) into the electronic flight bag system. The aircraft was not written off, but was instead returned to Airbus by way of a low altitude flight without pressurisation routed from Melbourne to Toulouse on 19 June via Perth, Singapore, Dubai and Cairo with the crew flying below 12,000 feet.
The aircraft made its first revenue flight after repairs on 1 December 2009 as flight EK424 and remains in service operating short to medium haul international flights out of Dubai.
The accident has been described "as close as we have ever come to a major aviation catastrophe in Australia" by aviation officials.
After being interviewed by investigators, the two pilots of the flight returned to Dubai. In an interview to a Melbourne newspaper, the pilot of Flight 407 revealed he had slept for only three and a half hours during the twenty-four-hour period preceding the accident. The pilot, who asked for his identity not to be revealed to the public, said "I thought we were going to die. It was that close. On the subject of fatigue, he mentioned he had flown a total 99 hours during the prior month, one hour short of the maximum 100 flying-hours allowed by Emirates. The pilot and the first officer were asked to resign from Emirates upon their arrival in Dubai, and both did so.
In October 2011, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released the findings of their investigation into the incident. They found that human error was the cause, and urged the development of technological aids that would alert pilots to incorrect data entry or insufficient take-off speed.
In response to the incident, Emirates reviewed its pre-flight procedures, mandating the duplication of laptop computers used for pre-flight planning so as to ensure dual data entry. They are also developing an avionics system for take-off acceleration-monitoring and alerting. Airbus updated its software to detect erroneous data. In October 2011, they announced plans to include a software program to calculate the required runway length. Furthermore, Airbus are developing a monitoring system to compute required acceleration rates and apply a "reasonableness test" to data input and alert the pilot to any potential errors. The system could potentially be certified by 2015.
The ATSB investigation found that an incorrect flex temp was applied, based on an incorrectly entered aircraft weight. This resulted in a lower than necessary engine thrust and consequently insufficient acceleration and airspeed.
Studies were also carried out that showed that aircrew could have difficulty recognising that incorrect data had been entered in avionic equipment resulting in poor take-off performance. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a safety recommendation to the United States Federal Aviation Administration and a safety advisory notice to the International Air Transport Association and the Flight Safety Foundation. In addition Airbus are investigating the development of software to help pilots recognise unusual or poor performance on take-off.
- Australian Transport Safety Bureau. ATSB Transport Safety Report AO-2009-012 FINAL. 16 Dec 2011. Viewed 24 Dec 2013.
- Stewart, Cameron (12 September 2009). "The devil is in the data". The Australian. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- Ellen Whinnett Emirates pilot in tail strike near-disaster tells his story Herald Sun 12 July 2009
- Australian Transport Safety Bureau. ATSB Interim report AO-2009-012. 18 Dec 2009. Viewed 20 Dec 2009.
- "Emirates near-miss Photo Gallery, ATSB Transport Safety Report into the March 20 tail strike at Melbourne Airport". Herald Sun. 30 April 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- Tail Strike – Melbourne Airport, Vic. – 20 March 2009 – A6-ERG – Airbus A340-500 (PDF). ATSB Transport Safety Report. 30 April 2009. ISBN 978-1-921602-43-6. AO-2009-012. Retrieved 27 January 2011.
- Whinnett, Ellen (26 April 2009). "Pilot of Emirates flight that nearly crashed at Melbourne Airport was sleep-deprived". Sunday Herald Sun. Retrieved 27 January 2011.
- "Aviation Photo Gallery". MyAviation.net. 22 June 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- "Emirates jet close to major 'aviation disaster'". Australian Associated Press. 12 April 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- "225 Are 'Lucky To Be Alive'". 12 April 2009.[dead link]
- Creedy, Steve (1 May 2009). "Close call as bungle left jet struggling for lift". The Australian. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- Steve Creedy (18 December 2011). "Airline's close-call to make flying safer". The Australian. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Andrew Heasley (16 December 2011). "Typo blamed for Emirates jet's botched take-off". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Tailstrike and runway overrun – Airbus A340-541, A6-ERG, Melbourne Airport, Victoria, 20 March 2009". 12 October 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
- Accident / Serious Incident Report for Emirates Flight 407 on SKYbrary categorised under Runway Excursion / Human Factors