A JETSTAR flight with 134 people on board had to turn back to Melbourne after the plane's tail hit the runway during the learner pilot's first takeoff.
The Hobart-bound A320 took off from Melbourne Airport on May 11 last year but was forced to return to the runway after the tail strike and when cabin crew heard unusual noises during the plane's climb, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said in a report handed down today.
The bureau found good communication among the cabin crew and flight crew meant the flight could return quickly and without risk of damage.
But the flight crew did not tell air traffic control about the tail strike as it should have, the report said.
In its investigation into the incident, the ATSB found the 2.49pm flight took off from runway 27 with a cadet pilot, a training captain and safety pilot in the cockpit.
The cadet pilot had a commercial pilot license and had completed all Civil Aviation Safety Authority training to be qualified to fly an A320. It was their first takeoff as pilot flying.
While the plane was climbing, the cadet pilot and the captain discussed how the pitch rate was higher than normal. This high pitch rate resulted in a high rotation rate during takeoff, which caused the aircraft's tail to hit the runway, the ATSB said.
"Later, during the climb, the cabin crew alerted the captain to unusual noises during rotation," the report said.
"As a result, the captain elected to stop the climb and return to Melbourne. The first officer also swapped seats with the cadet pilot."
The plane landed without incident at 3.23pm and some damage consistent with a tail strike was found.
The cadet pilot undertook additional training and assessment before returning to flight duties.
ATSB said while the plane's crew handled the situation well, the potential tail strike "was not adequately communicated to Melbourne air traffic control".
"This delayed checking the runway for aircraft debris," the bureau said.
In a statement to news.com.au, a Jetstar spokesman said: "The experienced captain and trainer pilot handled this extremely well and with the help of cabin crew ensured the aircraft returned to Melbourne Airport without further incident.
"The pilot involved was taken off flying duties while he underwent additional simulator training and assessments and after successfully passing this training returned to flying and has operated since without further incident.
"There was no structural damage to the aircraft and it returned to service shortly after.
"We use incidents to further improve the safety of our operation and soon after the event, we reminded our pilots of the importance of alerting air traffic control of a potential tail strike."
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