Captain miscalculates weight of aircraft by 17 tonnes
By Rebecca Seales
Last updated at 2:55 PM on 8th December 2011
A holiday flight with 223 passengers on board narrowly avoided disaster after the captain miscalculated its weight by 17 tonnes, an accident report revealed today.
The Airbus A321, operated by Thomas Cook, was due to fly from Manchester airport to Heraklion in Crete when its co-pilot who was tasked with flying the plane asked for its take-off weight – and received the wrong figure from the pilot.
As a consequence the aircraft took off without enough thrust or speed which could have caused the pilot to lose control, endangering all those on board.
Luckily, the co-pilot noticed that something was wrong, and made adjustments which averted disaster.
The report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the incident took place on the morning of April 29 this year – the day of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Describing the incident as ‘serious’, the report said the captain had accidentally read out the amount the plane weighed without fuel on board.
The flight management system was then programmed ‘with the incorrect speeds’.
The report went on: ‘The aircraft took off using less thrust and lower speed than were required.’
When the feel of the aircraft and the displays on the speed scale alerted the pilot to the problem he ‘responded by reducing the pitch attitude, which allowed the aircraft to accelerate to a safe climb speed’, said the report.
The AAIB said there were ‘a number of errors that occurred’, firstly because the captain read out the wrong number and afterwards when staff missed chances to detect the error.
Manchester Airport, where the incident took place
Shockingly, today’s report indicated that potentially dangerous mistakes are common before take-off, and go unreported across the industry.
It said there have been ‘a significant number of reported incidents and several accidents resulting from errors in take-off performance calculations around the world in recent years’.
‘There must also have been many similar events which were either unreported and/or unnoticed, some of which will have had the potential to cause accidents,’ it added.
Commenting on the report, Thomas Cook Airlines maintained that: ‘On recognising the error, the captain immediately amended the flight path to ensure the aircraft climbed safely away. No impact whatsoever was felt by the passengers.’
Thomas Cook has also hit headlines recently for its precarious financial situation. The second biggest tour operator in Europe was forced to ask its banks for an extra £100m loan to deal with its spiralling debt, totalling nearly £1billion.
Fears that the 170-year-old company was on the brink of collapse caused its share-price to plummet up to 75 per cent in one day as rumours circulated that the company was set to close 200 shops and axe 1,000 jobs to reduce its debt mountain.
The company, which has delayed releasing its end of year results due to its negotiations with the banks, is reportedly also set to cut its fleet of aircraft as another cost-cutting measure.
Unrest caused by the Arab Spring – especially in Egypt and Tunisia – and the ongoing eurozone crisis have been blamed for poor bookings this year, but the company has rushed to reassure travellers that their holidays are secure.
Following the crash in share price two weeks ago, Thomas Cook’s interim chief executive Sam Weihagen published a letter in national newspapers saying it is safe to book breaks with the group.
Mr Weihagen’s letter began: ‘What a week it has been for Thomas Cook,’ adding that it is now ‘an even stronger and more confident company’ and members of the public ‘can be sure that your holiday really is in safe hands’.