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On 1 February 2005, a Boeing Company 737-838 (737) was being operated on a scheduled passenger service from Sydney, NSW, to Darwin, NT with two pilots, five cabin crew and 151 passengers. The pilot in command (PIC) was the pilot flying for the take-off. At 1931 Eastern Daylight-saving Time, during lift-off from runway 34 Left (34L), in gusty crosswind conditions, the PIC and copilot felt the aircraft’s tail strike the runway. They queried the rear cabin crew, who confirmed that there was an unusual noise during the aircraft’s rotation. The pilots performed the 737 Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) Non-Normal Checklist for tail strike on takeoff. Following completion of the checklist, the PIC elected to return to Sydney for an overweight landing. An engineering inspection confirmed that the aircraft had sustained a tail strike during the takeoff. A crushable cartridge, fitted to minimise damage to the aircraft during a tail strike, was damaged and required replacement.

The investigation found that while the PIC needed to react quickly and precisely to manage roll in the gusty crosswind conditions, a more measured input of pitch control was required during the aircraft’s rotation to maintain the allowable tail clearance margin. This occurrence highlights that during a take-off manoeuvre, tail clearance margins can reduce to the point where a tail strike will probably occur if the recommended rotation rate is exceeded.

On the 25 January 2006, the operator advised the Australian Transport Safety Bureau they had developed a New Technologies training segment effective 18 January 2006. That training includes the use of the Heading Guidance System (HGS) on the Boeing 737 which will enhance situational awareness during takeoff and landing.

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