Final Report

Summary

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

The occurrence

Context

Safety analysis

Findings

Safety issues and actions

Sources and submissions