On 9 March 2022, a Boeing 737-800 (G-TAWY) being operated by TUI Airways on an international passenger flight from Manchester to Fuerteventura and being used for line training was over rotated during takeoff in day VMC and a tail strike occurred. A PAN was declared and a return to land made without further event and tail skid damage was confirmed.
A Serious Incident Investigation was carried out by the UK AAIB. Relevant recorded data was downloaded from both the CVR and the FDR and provided useful insight into what happened.
It was noted that the 63 year-old Training Captain in command had a total of 22,000 hours flying experience which included 6,000 hours on type. The First Officer was in his first job since obtaining a professional pilots licence and the investigated flight was his fifth line training sector after gaining his type rating. He had a total of 15 hours 40 minutes on type.
What happened and the context
Prior to the flight the Captain briefed aspects of the takeoff from runway 23R , for which the trainee First Officer was going to be PF, including the required rotation rate and crosswind technique - the ATIS surface wind was 170°/13 knots which was equivalent to an 11 knot crosswind component. Whilst still on stand, the Captain demonstrated, with the aircraft hydraulics powered, the correct control inputs which the trainee then practiced. The performance calculation used wet runway data in line with conditions which resulted in a slight lower V1 than a dry runway would have required.
On receipt of clearance, the Captain lined-up the aircraft on the runway and handed control to the trainee. The takeoff roll was normal until V1 with the trainee “concentrating on applying rudder to maintain the centreline” since he had perceived the relatively light wind as “gusty” and that it was necessary to keep adjusting rudder pedal pressure. However, above V1, the aircraft began to drift right and the Captain reported having considered that the gap between V1 and VR may not have been appreciated since it was greater than the trainee had previously experienced and this “may have caused a degree of surprise and distraction”.
The trainee initiated rotation at VR in a manner that the Captain reported considering was “a bit quick but within the normal and safe range”. However when the pitch attitude reached approximately 9° gradually, it then began to increase more quickly. The Captain had his hands on the controls and tried to reduce it but almost immediately both pilots “felt a bump”. The takeoff was continued with no other adverse indications or, initially, reports. The Captain stated that he had “intentionally left the landing gear extended to focus on the flight path, but then omitted to retract it until after the flaps were retracted”, The gear retraction occurred at a recorded 3,500 feet QNH and at a recorded 247 KCAS [Editors Note, the maximum airspeed for gear retraction on this type is 235 KIAS].
The Captain then contacted the cabin crew to ask if they had heard anything abnormal during the takeoff and was told that “a very big bang” had been heard. ATC were then advised of a tailstrike and a ‘PAN’ was declared with a request to stop the climb at FL100 and take up a hold pending a likely return to land. This was then confirmed and the Captain decided, contrary to the respective QRH procedure, not to depressurise the aircraft because “he felt it was safer to allow the cabin to depressurise normally during the imminent descent”.
The Captain took over as PF and the return to Manchester for an overweight landing just over 40 minutes later was uneventful. Damage to the tail skid and the aft drain mast was subsequently found but a more detailed examination subsequently found that the tail skid damage was confined to its crushable cartridge and the external shoe but the skid was still within limits for continued operations.
An examination of the FDR data during rotation for the investigated flight found that the tail strike maximum pitch attitude was 13° and that the maximum pitch rate prior to this was 7.1°/second. These data also showed that as this rotation had started, a left roll input which was sufficient to cause the left spoilers to deploy had occurred. Comparable data for the two previous flights showed a steady pitch rate and control column force that was markedly different from the tailstrike rotation where both had increased abnormally.
The First Officer’s training history was reviewed. He had joined TUI Airways in 2019 after obtaining a CPL (commercial pilot licence). He had then completed a “jet orientation course” followed by a Boeing 737 type rating course conducted by a third-party training provider. He had then completed an operator conversion course in March 2020, but thereafter his progress had been “interrupted by public health restrictions associated with COVID-19” and he had not completed simulator refresher training and base training in the aircraft until July 2021. Only after a further delay and some additional refresher training in the simulator did he complete his first two line training sectors on 27 January 2022 followed by his third and fourth such sectors two days prior to the tailstrike flight.
The training notes from the two January sectors were found to include the remark that “his rotation rate had been slightly slow” and that guidance to achieve the required 2 to 2.5°/second rate had been given. Notes from the sectors two days earlier were found to mention “not allowing the rotation to stagnate at 10°” and the need to ensure a continuous rotation to the 15° target attitude.
The aircraft operator noted that as well as the provision of a bespoke training package to reflect the difficulties caused to the normal ab initio pilot training sequence and additional simulator time, it had been decided that the first ten line training sectors would be flown with a Training Captain who was additionally qualified to conduct line training for Zero Flight Time (ZFT) trainees. This recognised the value of the enhanced training which such a Training Captain was required to have completed. It was also stated that the operator was aware that “training pilots in a long body aircraft like the B737-800 poses a tail strike risk and....provides additional intervention training to Training Captains”.
On specifics, it was noted that the trainee’s performance during day 2 of his line training had been “at the minimum company standard expected for someone at his stage of training and with his experience (but that) the policy to continue flight training with an experienced Training Captain from a long runway had been deemed appropriate”.
It was noted that the applicable OFDM programme monitored “average rotation rates” on a monthly basis and that the operator had no current concern on those data on their Boeing 737 fleet.
The formally-stated Conclusion of the Investigation was as follows:
"On takeoff, during a line training flight, the trainee co-pilot rotated the aircraft too rapidly causing the aircraft’s tail to strike the runway. The trainee had experienced disjointed training due to public health restrictions, which is likely to have made it harder to learn and retain the correct takeoff technique. During his first few sectors on the aircraft, it had been noted that his rotation rate was slightly slow, and he was allowing the rotation to stagnate. It is likely that trying to correct these issues contributed to the rapid rotation rate. The crosswind on the takeoff might have further added to co-pilot’s workload."
Safety Action taken by TUI Airways was noted as having included re-emphasising to its Training Captains the need for caution when conditions are not suitable for low experienced trainees to operate as Pilot Flying during the takeoff and landing, even if this results in the training objectives for that flight not being achieved. It had also taken action to ensure better training continuity.
The Final Report of the Investigation was published on 11 August 2022.