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Use of Erroneous Parameters at Take-Off

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Article Information
Category: Runway Excursion Runway Excursion
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Content control: EUROCONTROL EUROCONTROL

Description

The use of erroneous take-off parameters (thrust and speeds), usually as a result of using incorrect values for take off weight in performance calculations, can result in early rotation with tail strike, loss of control when airborne, or overrun as a result of failure to get airborne.

Identifying Common Causes

In 2007, following the investigation of two serious incidents involving tail strikes that had occurred at Paris, Charles de Gaull Airport (LFPG), a study entitled "USE OF ERRONEOUS PARAMETERS AT TAKEOFF" was conducted by the Applied Anthropology Laboratory (LAA) at the request of Le Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) and the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC).

Various investigation bodies, airlines and manufacturers were consulted in the course of the study because several other accidents, serious incidents and incidents of the same type have occurred around the world during recent years. These generally involved new generation aircraft, being caused by more or less significant errors in entering takeoff parameters that were not detected by crews. The errors occurred in various airlines and on various types of large aircraft manufactured by Airbus and Boeing. The most serious event occurred in 2004 and involved the destruction of a B747-200 Cargo on takeoff at Halifax and the death of all the crew members. Other incidents arising from errors of the same type, but of lesser magnitude, were reported more recently on latest-generation large and medium-sized aircraft such as Embraer 190.

The complete text of the study is accessible from (See: Further Reading).

Conclusion of the Study

In conclusion, the research identified the following problematic issues:

  • The variety of events shows that the problem of determining and using takeoff parameters is independent of the operating airline, aircraft type, equipment and method used,
  • Errors relating to takeoff data are frequent. They are generally detected by application of airline operating modes or by personal methods such as mental calculation,
  • Studied cases reveal that failures correspond to the "calculation of takeoff parameters" and "input of speeds into the FMS" functions, but do not correspond to errors in the "weight input into the FMS" function,
  • In several cases, the Zero Fuel Weight (ZFW) was entered instead of the Take-off Weight (TOW) into the performance calculator,
  • Half of the crews who responded to the survey carried out in one of the participating airlines had experienced errors in parameters or configuration at takeoff, some of which involved the weight input into the FMS,
  • Pilots' knowledge of the order of magnitude of these parameter values, determined by empirical methods, is the most frequently cited strategy used to avoid significant errors,
  • Input of the weight used in parameter calculation, in whatever medium it may be (by ACARS, in a computer, manually), is one of the determining steps in the process of takeoff preparation. It is this, by affecting both the thrust and the speeds, that determines takeoff safety,
  • The real-time availability of final weight information shortly before departure requires the crew to perform a large number of tasks, inputs and parameter displays under strong time pressure,
  • Checks on the "takeoff parameter calculation" function can be shown to be ineffective because they consist of verifying the input of the value but not the accuracy of the value itself,
  • In the same way, the check of data featuring on several media often proves to be ineffective. It is often limited to item by item comparisons. If the item is wrong, the check is correct but inadequate because it doesn't cover overall consistency. In particular, there is no comparison between values for takeoff weight given in the final loadsheet, on the takeoff paper or electronic "card" and in the FMS,
  • The reference speed values suggested by some FMS can be easily changed. They do not enable routine detection of prior calculation errors,
  • Studied FMS allow insertion of weight and speed values that are inconsistent or outside the operational limits of the aircraft concerned. Some accept an omission to enter speeds without the crew being alerted,
  • The weight values manipulated by crews before the flight can appear, depending on the documents or software, under various names or acronyms and in different units and formats for the same data, which makes them too difficult to memorise,
  • Time pressure and task interruptions are frequently cited in surveys as common factors contributing to errors. The observations showed that the crews' work load increases as the departure time approaches and that the normal operation actions of the captain were all the more disrupted,
  • During the takeoff run, the possible decision to reject takeoff based on an erroneous V1 no longer guarantees safety margins,
  • On cockpit display screens of the PFD-type (Primary Flight Display), the marker representing Vr is not displayed at low speed. Further, it can be difficult to distinguish it from the marker representing V1, especially when the two values are similar.
  • In several cases, crews perceived abnormal airplane behaviour during takeoff. Some took off “normally”, i.e. no abnormal behaviour counter strategy was applied. Others were able to adopt different strategies: stopping takeoff, increasing thrust, delayed rotation.

Accidents & Incidents

Events in the SKYbrary database which include Pre Flight Data Input Error as a contributory factor:

  • A319 / A321, en-route, west north west of Geneva, Switzerland 2011 (On 6 August 2011 an Easyjet Airbus A319 on which First Officer Line Training was in progress exceeded its cleared level during the climb after a different level to that correctly read back was set on the FMS. As a result, it came into conflict with an Alitalia A321 and this was resolved by responses to coordinated TCAS RAs. STCA alerts did not enable ATC resolution of the conflict and it was concluded that a lack of ATC capability to receive Mode S EHS DAPs - since rectified - was a contributory factor to the outcome.)
  • A320, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg France, 2014 (On 6 October 2014, an A320 crew requested, accepted and continued with an intersection take off but failed to correct the takeoff performance data previously entered for a full length take off which would have given 65% more TODA. Recognition of the error and application of TOGA enabled completion of the take-off but the Investigation concluded that a rejected take off from high speed would have resulted in an overrun. It also concluded that despite change after a similar event involving the same operator a year earlier, relevant crew procedures were conducive to error.)
  • A320, Porto Portugal, 2013 (On 1 October 2013, an Airbus A320 took off from a runway intersection at Porto which provided 1900 metres TORA using take off thrust that had been calculated for the full runway length of 3480 metres TORA. It became airborne 350 metres prior to the end of the runway but the subsequent Investigation concluded that it would not have been able to safely reject the take-off or continue it, had an engine failed at high speed. The event was attributed to distraction and the inappropriate formulation of the operating airline's procedures for the pre take-off phase of flight.)
  • A321, Manchester UK, 2011 (1) (On 29 April 2011, an Airbus A321-200 being operated by Thomas Cook Airlines on a passenger service from Manchester UK to Iraklion, Greece took off in day VMC but failed to establish a climb at the expected speed until the aircraft pitch attitude was reduced below that prescribed for the aircraft weight which had been entered into the FMS. No abnormal manoeuvres occurred and none of the 231 occupants were injured.)
  • A333, Chicago O'Hare IL USA, 2013 (On 5 March 2013, the aft-stationed cabin crew of an Airbus A330-300 being operated by Lufthansa on a scheduled international passenger flight from Chicago O'Hare to Munich advised the flight crew after the night normal visibility take-off that they had heard "an unusual noise" during take-off. Noting that nothing unusual had been heard in the flight deck and that there were no indications of any abnormal system status, the Captain decided, after consulting Company maintenance, that the flight should be completed as planned. The flight proceeded uneventfully but on arrival in Munich, it became clear that the aircraft had sustained "substantial damage" due to a tail strike on take-off and was unfit for flight.)
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Continuing the data entry theme, the following events in the SKYbrary database include Data use error as a contributory factor:

  • A306, Paris CDG France, 1997 (On 30 July 1997, an Airbus A300-600 being operated by Emirates Airline was departing on a scheduled passenger flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle in daylight when, as the aircraft was accelerating at 40 kts during the take off roll, it pitched up and its tail touched the ground violently. The crew abandoned the takeoff and returned to the parking area. The tail of the aircraft was damaged due to the impact with the runway when the plane pitched up.)
  • A310, Vienna Austria, 2000 (On 12 July 2000, a Hapag Lloyd Airbus A310 was unable to retract the landing gear normally after take off from Chania for Hannover. The flight was continued towards the intended destination but the selection of an en route diversion due to higher fuel burn was misjudged and useable fuel was completely exhausted just prior to an intended landing at Vienna. The aeroplane sustained significant damage as it touched down unpowered inside the aerodrome perimeter but there were no injuries to the occupants and only minor injuries to a small number of them during the subsequent emergency evacuation.)
  • A319 / A321, en-route, west north west of Geneva, Switzerland 2011 (On 6 August 2011 an Easyjet Airbus A319 on which First Officer Line Training was in progress exceeded its cleared level during the climb after a different level to that correctly read back was set on the FMS. As a result, it came into conflict with an Alitalia A321 and this was resolved by responses to coordinated TCAS RAs. STCA alerts did not enable ATC resolution of the conflict and it was concluded that a lack of ATC capability to receive Mode S EHS DAPs - since rectified - was a contributory factor to the outcome.)
  • A320, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg France, 2014 (On 6 October 2014, an A320 crew requested, accepted and continued with an intersection take off but failed to correct the takeoff performance data previously entered for a full length take off which would have given 65% more TODA. Recognition of the error and application of TOGA enabled completion of the take-off but the Investigation concluded that a rejected take off from high speed would have resulted in an overrun. It also concluded that despite change after a similar event involving the same operator a year earlier, relevant crew procedures were conducive to error.)
  • A320, Khartoum Sudan, 2005 (On 11 March 2005, an Airbus A321-200 operated by British Mediterranean Airways, executed two unstable approaches below applicable minima in a dust storm to land in Khartoum Airport, Sudan. The crew were attempting a third approach when they received information from ATC that visibility was below the minimum required for the approach and they decided to divert to Port Sudan where the A320 landed without further incident.)
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Further Reading