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ATSB: preliminary report on A340-500 tail strike accident at Melbourne
30 April 2009

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released its Preliminary Factual report into the tail strike involving Airbus A340-500, A6-ERG, during takeoff at Melbourne Airport at approximately 10:31 PM on the evening of 20 March 2009. The aircraft was being operated on a scheduled passenger flight from Melbourne to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

It was determined that during the take-off roll on runway 16, the captain called for the first officer to rotate (lift off). However, when the aircraft was slow to respond, the captain commanded and applied maximum take-off thrust (TOGA). The aircraft’s tail struck the runway and the aircraft lifted off shortly afterwards. During the take-off, the aircraft’s tail contacted the ground beyond the end of the runway and a number of airport landing aids came into contact with the aircraft.

After becoming airborne, the flight crew received a cockpit message that a tail strike had occurred and so they contacted Air Traffic Control (ATC) and requested a return to Melbourne. The aircraft was radar vectored by ATC over Port Philip Bay to dump fuel to reduce the aircraft’s weight for landing. While reviewing the aircraft’s performance documentation in preparation for landing, the crew noticed that an incorrect weight had been inadvertently entered into the laptop when completing the take-off performance calculation prior to departure. The performance calculations were based on a take-off weight that was 100 tonnes below the actual take-off weight of the aircraft.

The result of that incorrect take-off weight was to produce a thrust setting and take-off reference speeds that were lower than those required for the aircraft’s actual weight. During the return to land at Melbourne, a cabin crew member reported smoke in the cabin. The aircraft subsequently landed safely at 11:36 PM and was able to be taxied to the terminal where the passengers were disembarked. There were no reported injuries.

Damage to the aircraft included abraded skin to the rear, lower fuselage and damage to the rear pressure bulkhead. There was also damage to a fixed approach light, an instrument landing system (ILS) monitor antenna and the ILS localiser antenna.