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Qantas mayday as fuel runs out

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By Steve Creedy, Aviation writer


Article from: </IMG>


QANTAS has modified its fuel policy for flights to Perth airport after a jet from Singapore aborted two landings and issued a mayday before landing in fog, because it was unable to get to a suitable alternative airport.


The crew ended up conducting an automatic landing of the Airbus A330-300 with about half the 800m visibility that is normally considered the minimum for landings at Perth.


An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report released yesterday said the Qantas policy meant the aircraft left Singapore on September 16 last year without enough fuel to allow it to reach the alternative airport at Learmonth, 1110km north of Perth, in the event of a last-minute problem.


It said the combination of the fog and the absence of a suitable alternative airport meant the flight had to make an emergency landing.


Weather reports at the time of departure indicated the fog would roll in about 1 ½ hours after the aircraft's landing, and the crew had taken on fuel beyond the company's minimum requirement as a result of the forecast.


The bureau found the crew actively sought and received weather updates, but it was not until midnight, when the aircraft had started descent and was committed to landing, that forecasts predicted the fog would hit the airport before arrival time.


"At the time of the incident, the operator's fuel policy did not discriminate against Perth, which was relatively isolated in terms of distance from airports suitable for the A330, and other Australian airports," the report said.


"This meant that, in absence of any applicable operational requirement, flights to Perth did not routinely carry additional fuel for flight from the planned destination to a suitable airport.


"The operator was aware of the safety risk posed by unforeseen events, meteorological or otherwise, at destination airports and managed the risk through its integrated operations centre."


Investigators found the crew's decision to attempt landings in conditions below the acceptable minimum for Perth was sound under the circumstances.


It said the decision to select runway 21 and the use of the A330 autoland system reduced the risk of landing in the dense fog. But it found there were still risks that were not considered acceptable in normal circumstances.


Qantas has since changed its fuel policy to take on more fuel on Perth flights to allow it to get to an alternative airport if there is any indication of fog. Qantas chief pilot Chris Manning said the airline had put an additional two-hour buffer on bad weather forecasts for flights into Perth.


"We have done this because we're conservative, we've never seen this before, but all our flights now are carrying extra fuel if the weather is forecast to deteriorate within two hours of arrival," he said, noting that the standard Civil Aviation Safety Authority requirement was 30 minutes.


"We've just done that because of the isolation of Perth."


Captain Manning also rejected any suggestion that the company pressured pilots not to take on extra fuel. "Forecasting fog's relatively difficult and comments we put pressure on pilots not to take extra fuel is absolutely wrong, absolutely false," he said.


"They took extra fuel and we don't take a note of that ever. That's the pilot in command's responsibility."



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