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Data entry REAR-END SNAFU: Weighty ballsup leads to plane take-off flap

Another good reason not to treat kids as adults

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We're all accustomed to tales of woe that children are becoming too fat, but how about too-light kiddies spoiling the balance of an aircraft?

An error at Australia's Canberra airport left a 168-seat Boeing 737 struggling to take off because a group of 87 schoolchildren was entered into the check-in system as adults.

As noted in Australia's Air Transport Safety Bureau's (ATSB) analysis of the May incident, the slip-up assigned them the “adult weight” of 87kg, and meant the flight system over-estimated the weight of the plane by between 3.5 and 5 tonnes, throwing out its take-off speed and stabiliser trim calculations.

Because the children (as well as the nine adults that accompanied them) were seated at the back of the aircraft, the miscalculation meant the rear of the aircraft was lighter than expected.

“During take-off, the aircraft appeared nose-heavy. To rotate the aircraft and lift off from the runway, the captain found that significant back pressure was required,” the report states.

That meant the pilot had to get the jet into the air without scraping the tail on the runway. That was achieved by maintaining “steady back pressure” to “ease the aircraft into the air”.

It also required a faster take-off, with the report noting the aircraft “exceeded the calculated take-off safety speed” by about 25 knots.

As the ATSB drily notes: “Determining accurate weight and balance is required for all aircraft prior to flight.”

Qantas has responded with new check-in procedures for large groups. ®

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