Italian investigators have attributed a Boeing 737-800’s damaging tail-strike at Naples to the captain’s belated attempt to avoid a hard landing, after the first officer initiated an early flare.

The Blue Air aircraft, arriving from Bucharest on 6 May 2022, had been conducting the ILS approach to runway 24.

Its crew had disengaged the autopilot and autothrottle by the time the aircraft descended to 1,530ft.

But while it passed 1,000ft with the stabilisation criteria “substantially satisfied”, says Italian investigation authority ANSV, the aircraft started deviating from the glideslope – initially rising above and then, at 200-300ft, dipping below it.

Although the aircraft was pitched nose-up, the absence of a thrust increase caused the airspeed to decline – from 142kt to 134kt – at 140ft.

Blue Air tail-strike Naples-c-ANSV

Source: ANSV

Cameras captured the tail-strike as the 737 landed hard while pitched nose-up

The captain intervened on the controls to limit the climb attitude and regain airspeed, with the aircraft about 300m from the runway threshold.

Although the 737’s airspeed increased to 140kt, the first officer again lifted the nose at about 60ft.

ANSV says this “anticipated flare” coincided with a change in wind direction from 194° to 159°, and the aircraft’s speed reduced to 133kt at 44ft.

Although the first officer maintained back-pressure on the yoke, the jet continued to sink, until the captain intervened again at 20ft to apply a stronger pull.

This caused the aircraft to pitch 8.8° nose up but was insufficient to slow the descent rate of 670ft/min. The jet landed hard, with a 3.8g impact, and its attitude was such that its tail struck the ground.

Blue Air hard landing compressed gear-c-ANSV

Source: ANSV

Landing-gear of the 737 were compressed and the aft fuselage sustained damage

The jet (YR-BMM) suffered underside aft fuselage damage but none of the 147 passengers and seven crew members – which included a third pilot in the cockpit, in a safety role – was injured.

Two other Blue Air aircraft had experienced similar occurrences in the month before the accident.

One of the carrier’s 737-800s (YR-BML) suffered a hard landing, at 2.57g, on touchdown at Naples on 1 April while a 737 Max 8 (YR-MXE) had a 2.39g hard landing at Luton on 15 April.

Both avoided a tail-strike and the carrier issued a safety bulletin on 18 April. But the bulletin was not enough to prevent the Naples accident, just three weeks later, and the airline subsequently declared that only captains were permitted to perform landings at Naples.