Virgin hard landing prompts warning on procedures

November 12, 2019
The ATR involved in the hard landing. Photo: ATSB.

Australian regulators have emphasized the need to follow standard operating procedures after an incident in which a Virgin Australia turboprop was substantially damaged after hitting the runway at almost three times the force of gravity

The hard landing by an ATR 72 with 67 passengers on board at Canberra Airport on November 10, 2017, came after an unstable approach in conditions of light turbulence.

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A check captain in the cockpit at the time was conducting a routine annual operational line check of the captain and a six-month operational line check of the first officer over four flights on the day.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report said this was the last of the four flights involving the first officer, who was the pilot flying.

Problems began when the first officer assessed the aircraft was overshooting and not on the correct descent profile.

He responded to this 118 feet above the runway by reducing engine power to idle which, according to the report, created a significant increase in drag.

Realizing that the power was incorrectly set, the captain twice called for an increase in power before intervening to do that himself.

By then it was too late to arrest a 784 feet per minute rate of descent, which was already higher than the design limit of the undercarriage and above the normal rate of about 575 per minute.

At that point, the ATSB said, the aircraft was subjected to a significant wind change from a 10-knot headwind to a two-knot tailwind component.

“This resulted in a further loss of lift, and the captain later stated that he felt the aircraft drop out from under him,’’ it said.

“Consequently, the aircraft reached a recorded 928 feet per minute descent rate at touchdown, resulting in a 2.97 G hard landing on the main landing gear, tail skid and underside of the rear fuselage, resulting in substantial damage.”

The aircraft required a landing gear inspection, reskinning of sections of the fuselage underside, and replacement of the tail skid and a drain deflector mast before it could return to service.

Some of the damage to the ATR. Photo: ATSB.

ATSB executive director transport safety Nat Nagy said the hard landing was a result of the approach proceeding when the crew should have performed a go-around.

He noted unstable approaches continued to be a leading contributor to landing accidents and runway excursions.

“This occurrence demonstrates the importance of crews adhering to standard operating procedures and conducting a go-around when an approach becomes unstable,’’ he said.

“It also highlights the risks associated with incorrect handling of an approach to land, and the need for prompt and decisive action, as the available time to remedy an unstable approach situation is short.”

Virgin subsequently stengthened its guidance and training about low-power settings during approach.