Aviation safety investigations & reports

Lightning strike involving Airbus A330, VH-XFJ, at Perth Airport, WA on 26 November 2014

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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What happened

At about 1717 on 26 November 2014, the crew of a Virgin Australia Airlines Pty Ltd Airbus A330 aircraft, registered VH-XFJ, taxied to gate 20A at Perth Airport, Western Australia after holding short for about an hour due to severe thunderstorm activity in the area. When the aircraft stopped, the Ramp Supervisor connected the headset to communicate with the flight crew. At about the same time, other ground crew reported observing lightning strike the aircraft’s tail. As a result, an electrical discharge passed through the headset rendering the ramp supervisor unconscious. Another ground crew member who was assisting the arrival of VH-XFJ was also affected by electrical discharge from the lightning strike. That person remained conscious. Both ground crew were hospitalised for observation. There was no apparent damage to the aircraft.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that, while the airport’s lightning detection system was working within its rated specifications, it did not show ground strikes leading up to, or at the time of the injuries sustained by the ground crew. This highlights the importance of local observations when making risk assessments about resuming ramp duties. The ATSB also found that on the day of the incident, perceived operational pressure, weather advice, and a decrease in local storm activity influenced the Ramp Supervisor’s decision to resume ramp activities.

What's been done as a result

Subsequent to this occurrence, Perth Airport Pty Ltd has installed a thunderstorm warning system that provides audible and visual alerts to airport staff when it is unsafe to be on the ramp.

In addition, the ground-handling organisation made changes to its severe weather procedures, which include ceasing using aircraft-connected headsets when lightning activity is within 10 NM (19 km) of an airport.

Finally, Virgin Australia Airlines Pty Ltd advised that they provided all Airport Movement Coordinators with additional training in weather and flight planning. This included automated thunderstorm alerting system-specific training. In addition, the airline has aligned their manuals with other stakeholders’ extreme weather policy and procedures and commenced using wireless headsets at some airports.

Safety message

This occurrence reaffirms that perceived or actual operational requirements should not be allowed to compromise safety. When assessing if work can resume on the airfield in the face of potentially‑hazardous weather conditions, local observations of those conditions should be an integral part of the decision-making process. The final decision to resume duties should remain with the responsible person at that location.

Lightning at Perth Airport (not the day of the incident)
Lightning at Perth Airport 
(not the day of the incident)
Source: Will Mallinson

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[Download  PDF: 1.26MB]

The occurrence


Safety analysis


Safety issues and actions

Sources and submissions

General details
Date: 26 November 2014   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 17:17 WST   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Perth Airport    
State: Western Australia   Occurrence type: Lightning strike  
Release date: 08 March 2017   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Serious  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus  
Aircraft model A330-243  
Aircraft registration VH-XFJ  
Serial number 1561  
Operator Virgin Australia  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Sector Jet  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Sydney, NSW  
Destination Perth, WA  
Last update 14 November 2018