Low fuel forced Italian MD-82 to land on closed runway

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Italian investigators have disclosed that an aircraft on a domestic service between Milan Linate and Cagliari was forced to land on a closed runway because it burned diversion reserves during a prolonged hold.

While the Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Volo (ANSV) does not specifically identify the incident, which has led investigators to issue a set of recommendations, the circumstances match those experienced by a Meridiana Boeing MD-82 which declared a fuel emergency on 5 May while holding to land at Cagliari.

ANSV says the aircraft, with 36 passengers on board, had been cleared for approach but the crew was subsequently instructed to execute a go-around because of the presence of birds on the runway.

The aircraft made a second attempt to approach the runway, 14L, but was again told to abort. It was then placed in a holding stack over Cagliari.

Twenty-three minutes after the first landing attempt, the crew declared a fuel emergency to air traffic controllers and requested clearance to land, despite the runway's being unavailable.

ANSV says that the aircraft had around 2,900kg of fuel on board at this point, less than the minimum level of fuel - some 3,100kg - required for diversion.

The aircraft landed 10min after the emergency declaration. Controllers opened the runway shortly afterwards.

While the aircraft's flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders had been overwritten by the time the incident was reported, four days later, ANSV says fuel levels on board the aircraft had been checked prior to departure from Milan, and the pilots had decided they "did not wish to upload extra fuel" for the flight.

It adds that a NOTAM was in place for Cagliari, valid from 1 May to 25 July, warning crews of possible delays because of birds in the vicinity of runway 14L/32R.

The aircraft's fuel levels reached their minimum for diversion about 19-20min after the first aborted approach and 3-4min after the second.

The investigators point out that the captain is responsible for verifying carriage of adequate fuel, including reserves for diversion and a final reserve.

ANSV says the jet should have been able to divert to an alternative airport, Olbia, without having to declare an emergency and land on a closed runway. It has issued four recommendations to the Italian civil aviation administration, urging better fuel-planning awareness for crews.