On 9 May 2014, a Qantas Boeing 737 aircraft, registered VH-VZO and, operating a flight from Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, to Perth, Western Australia, was prepared for departure. On board the aircraft were the crew and 150 passengers, including a group of 87 primary school children. The group of children was seated together at the rear of the cabin and all had been assigned the standard adult weight of 87 kg during check-in.
The captain and first officer conducted the pre-flight checks and waited some time for the final load sheet to be delivered. The load sheet stated the take-off weight as 76,800 kg and the stabiliser trim figure as 5.5 units.
During take-off, the aircraft appeared nose-heavy. To rotate the aircraft and lift off from the runway, the captain found that significant back pressure was required. Conscious of the potential threat of striking the aircraft tail on the runway if too much back pressure was applied to the controls, the captain maintained steady back pressure to ease the aircraft into the air. The aircraft exceeded the calculated take-off safety speed (V2) by about 25 kt. The aircraft climbed at a higher initial climb speed than normal, which resulted in a slightly reduced climb gradient, but the crew did not receive any terrain or other warnings.
The crew did not experience any further issues during the flight. It was subsequently determined that the final load sheet overstated the aircraft take-off weight by about 3.5 to 5 tonnes and the stabiliser trim was out about 1 unit.
Determining accurate weight and balance is required for all aircraft prior to flight. Use of a trim setting that is inappropriate for the aircraft’s actual weight and balance may adversely affect the aircraft’s controllability at any stage of flight.