MK crash raises data quality issues

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Weight assessment methods, runway information at Halifax and crew fatigue all concern Canadian safety board

 The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC) has written two safety advisory letters to the country's transport department following the 14 October crash of an MK Airlines Boeing 747-200F at Halifax, Nova Scotia. One concerns the data available on the runway slope at Halifax, the other draws attention to assessment methods used to determine the weight of freight pallets loaded with packages at airports where there is no ability to weigh the full pallet.

In addition, the elapsed time from take-off at Luxembourg to the attempted take-off in Canada has been confirmed by the TSBC as 12h 6min. The destination of Zaragoza, Spain would have meant a further 8h crew duty. The same augmented crew, consisting of two captains, a first officer, two flight engineers, a loadmaster and a ground engineer were rostered to perform the entire trip from Luxembourg via Bradley, Connecticut, on to Halifax; and finally to Zaragoza. All seven died in the accident.

Asked whether this was an excessive duty period even for an augmented crew, Ghana-registered MK says that it has since changed its rostering to bring it in line with European practices, but claims this was the result of a study begun early this year, not as a reaction to the accident.

The TSBC says its safety advisory letters do not imply a cause for the accident, but it says that concerns about the quality of data from which take-off performance calculations were made have arisen as a result of investigations into the MK incident.

The TSBC confirms, for example, that pallets of seafood loaded on to the 747 at Halifax could not be weighed when filled, so their weight was calculated as a multiple of the assessed average weight of the packages stacked on it. The aircraft attempted a take-off, but did not get airborne despite two tailscrapes near the runway end, after which its tail hit an earth and concrete bank 200m (650ft) beyond the runway and detached.

The TSBC will not comment on whether crew fatigue might have been a factor in the accident. The board also says that it is not allowed by law to reveal flight data recorder (FDR) information in advance of the accident report, so local press claims that FDR data shows the aircraft began its take-off at a low power setting and only increased it to the planned setting close to rotation have not come from official sources.

DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON