Investigators have determined that control difficulties on take-off experienced by a Titan Airways Boeing 737-300 crew arose from an error during freight loading at Edinburgh.
The aircraft (G-POWC) was transporting a crew of three and eight unit load device containers when it departed for London Stansted on 19 November last year.
But the containers had been loaded in reverse order to that intended, says the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch. Heavier containers were normally positioned at the rear, with lighter ones at the front, but the loading error meant the aircraft’s centre-of-gravity was forward of envelope limits.
Late arrival of fuel and load had resulted in a rushed turnaround, says the inquiry, and a basic check on the container positions “had not been carried out”.
When the captain attempted rotation the control column required greater back-pressure than normal. The rotation was “slow and late”, says the inquiry, and the climb required more nose-up trim than usual. Analysis showed the aircraft began rotating at 141kt while the calculated rotation speed was 128kt.
Although the crew considered the possibility of a loading error, the aircraft appeared otherwise to be flying normally and the pilots opted to continue to London. After the approach and landing, which again required additional pitch trim, a check confirmed the incorrect container locations. The correct sequence had been on the loading documentation.
As a result of the incident the operator has changed its procedures so that flight crew check each container as it is loaded. It has also embraced a system whereby the heaviest containers occupy centre positions, to limit the consequences of a loading error.