Miscommunication between crew put Jetstar's A320 at risk of tail strike

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Jetstar has added a module on incorrect thrust settings at take-off to its simulator training regime after an incident involving one of its Airbus A320s on 6 February 2012.

The aircraft, with registration VH-JQX, was commencing take-off from runway 16R at Sydney airport on a flight to Launceston in Tasmania when the incident happened.

Investigations by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the pilot flying (PF), who was under training, had unintentionally moved one of the aircraft's thrust levers forward of the required detent, resulting in the thrust setting being switched to manual mode.

Identifying the issue, the training captain, who was the pilot not flying (PNF), made the required standard calls to the PF, indicating that the thrust was not set. The PF was, however, confused with the repeated calls, as his scan of the flight mode annunciator and engine indications did not show any problems with the engine thrust.

"The PNF, while using standard phraseology, did not effectively communicate his understanding of the thrust lever asymmetry situation to the PF," says the ATSB. This was partly a result of the training environment that they were operating in, it adds.

The PNF then made another call, signalling that the flight should continue and that the PF should select take-off/go around thrust to resolve the asymmetry situation. The PF, however, mistook the command as a call to "rotate" and hence, rotated the aircraft.

This resulted in the rotation commencing below the required speed, which had the potential to cause a tail strike and damage to the runway. Noticing this, the PF slowed the rate of rotation to allow the aircraft to accelerate to the required rotation speed.

The ATSB found that there was miscommunication that was not resolved effectively between the crew. The PF could also have been confused because he was transitioning from the Boeing 767, and the manual thrust mode on the A320 was consistent with his experience of a normal take-off on the previous aircraft type.

Besides the additional simulator training module, Jetstar has also since released a communication to pilots on the responsibilities of the pilot-in-command during operational events.

"The incident highlights the importance of good flightcrew communication to ensure a shared understanding of the aircraft's system status," says the ATSB.