The U.S. FAA issued a Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFO), warning Part 121 Air Carriers of safety concerns and operational compliance issues regarding Weight and Balance Programs (WBP).
A fatal Boeing 747-400F accident at Bagram, Afghanistan in 2013 brought issues to light regarding the loading of aircraft, particularly with restraining non standard cargo.
The FAA’s Cargo Focus Team (CFT) was created as a result of the findings in this accident investigation. The Cargo Focus Team identified safety concerns and operational compliance issues during its review of Part 121 air carrier’s Weight and Balance Program (WBPs).
It appeared that some airlines had developed their own WBP, which allowed for restraint methods that are not approved. These unapproved restraint methods are contrary to the aircraft’s FAA-approved flight manual limitations. Air carriers are not permitted to use any cargo restraint methods that are not specifically approved in the WBM or WBM supplement.
Other issues of concern identified by the CFT during its review included a lack of documentation of the aircraft’s current cargo loading system (CLS). Due to the installation and removal of multiple Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs) over time, the cargo configuration of some aircraft could not be determined. In some isolated cases, air carriers had developed procedures for aircraft loading that exceeded the structural design capability of the aircraft. Exceeding this capability can lead to catastrophic failure of the aircraft.
The SAFO Bulletin recommends that air carriers should review their WBM and cargo loading documents to validate adherence to the manufacturer’s FAA-approved WBM or STC WBM supplement for each aircraft on their Operations Specifications.