Aviation safety investigations & reports

Hard landing involving ATR 72, VH-FVZ, Canberra Airport, Australian Capital Territory on 19 November 2017

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

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What happened

On 19 November 2017, a GIE Avions de Transport Regional ATR 72-212A aircraft, registered VH‑FVZ, was being operated by Virgin Australia Airlines as flight VA646 from Sydney, New South Wales to Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. On board the aircraft were the captain, first officer, a check captain, two cabin crewmembers and 67 passengers.

During the landing approach, the aircraft speed increased above the maximum allowable and the first officer (the pilot flying – the captain was the pilot monitoring) assessed that the aircraft was overshooting the desired approach profile. In response, the first officer reduced engine power to idle at a height of 118 ft above the runway elevation, leading to an increasing descent rate and reducing speed.

The aircraft subsequently landed heavily on the main landing gear, tail skid and underside of the rear fuselage. No persons were injured, however the aircraft sustained substantial damage.

What the ATSB found

During the late stages of the aircraft’s approach to land, the approach became unstable in speed and then in power setting. The flight crew did not recognise the unstable approach, however the pilot monitoring recognised the incorrect power setting and called for an increase in power then physically intervened shortly before touchdown. However, these actions were not effective in preventing the hard landing.

The aircraft also encountered a change in the wind direction and strength immediately before touching down, which increased the descent rate. This, combined with the already high descent rate, increased the amount of damage sustained by the aircraft.

What's been done as a result

Following this occurrence, the operator strengthened its guidance on the effects of sustained low power settings during approach and landing and the importance of avoiding that situation. These aspects are also being reinforced in training.

The operator also added additional criteria to its operational monitoring program to detect instances of low power settings at low level.

Safety message

Unstable approaches continue to be a leading contributor to approach and landing accidents and runway excursions. This occurrence demonstrates the importance of crews adhering to standard operating procedures and conducting a go-around when an approach becomes unstable. It also highlights the risks associated with the incorrect handling of an approach to land and the need for prompt and decisive action as the available time to remedy the situation is limited.

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The occurrence


Safety analysis


Safety actions

General details

Sources and submissions


Preliminary report published: 23 January 2018

Sequence of events

On 19 November 2017, a GIE Avions de Transport Regional ATR 72-212A aircraft, registered VH‑FVZ, was being operated by Virgin Australia as flight VA646 on a scheduled passenger flight from Sydney, New South Wales to Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. On board the aircraft was the captain, first officer, a check captain, two cabin crew and 67 passengers.

The first officer was pilot flying, and the captain was pilot monitoring.[1] The check captain was positioned in the observer seat on the flight deck and was conducting an annual line check of the captain along with a six month line check of the first officer over four flights on the day. The occurrence flight was the last of these flights.

At about 1320 Eastern Daylight-saving Time (EDT),[2] the flight crew were conducting a visual approach to runway 35 at Canberra. The calculated approach speed was 113 kt. At 1320:52, nine seconds prior to touch down, the aircraft approached the runway at a height of about 107 ft, slightly above the desired approach path. The flight crew reported that at about this time, there was turbulence and changing wind conditions. Flight data showed that at this time, speed had increased to 127 kt. In response to the increasing speed, the first officer reduced power to near flight idle.

Over the next five seconds, the descent rate increased significantly and the speed reduced.

During the last 50 ft of descent, the captain twice called for an increase in power and then called for a go-around. The first officer responded by increasing the power at about the same time as the aircraft touched down.

At 1321:01, the aircraft touched down heavily on the main landing gear and rear fuselage. Assessing that the aircraft was under control, the captain immediately called to the first officer to cancel the go-around and then took control of the aircraft. The flight crew completed the landing roll and taxied to the gate without further incident.

After shutting down the engines, the flight crew reviewed the recorded landing data which indicated a hard landing had occurred, requiring maintenance inspections. The captain then made an entry in the aircraft technical log, and subsequent inspections revealed that the aircraft had been substantially damaged. There were no reported injuries.

Aircraft damage

The aircraft sustained impact and abrasion damage to the underside of the rear fuselage and tail skid (Figure 1). Damage to the tail skid indicated that it was fully compressed during the landing. After landing, the main landing gear oleos remained fully compressed, indicating they had lost gas pressure.

At the time of the release of this report, the operator was conducting an engineering examination of the aircraft, in consultation with the aircraft manufacturer, to determine the extent of further damage and the required repair work to be undertaken.

Figure 1: Damage to the tail skid an underside of the rear fuselage

Figure 1: Damage to the tail skid an underside of the rear fuselage

Source: ATSB

Weather and environmental information

Recorded weather observations at Canberra Airport indicated that at the time of the accident, there was scattered cloud at about 7,000 ft above mean sea level,[3] no precipitation, visibility in excess of 10 km, and a moderate north-easterly wind of about 16 kt.

The approach to runway 35 passes over undulating higher ground, which can be a source of mechanical turbulence. The flight crew reported that they regularly experienced turbulence at all stages of approach and landing at Canberra.

Aircraft information

The ATR 72-212A is a twin engine turboprop regional airliner. VH-FVZ was manufactured in 2013 and first registered in Australia in May 2013, and was configured with 68 passenger seats. The maximum landing weight of the aircraft was 22,350 kg. At the time of the landing, the gross weight was about 21,700 kg.

The aircraft’s flight crew operating manual recommended that prior to landing, power should start to be reduced to flight idle at a height of about 20 ft. The manual also advises that during the landing flare, speed will reduce five to ten knots below the approach speed.

Recorded data

The aircraft was fitted with a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder, which recorded the flight data associated with the occurrence (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Graphical representation of recorded flight data
Figure 2: Graphical representation of recorded flight data

The figure shows relevant recorded parameters captured by the flight data recorder. The landing and selected approach speed are annotated.

Source: ATSB

The recorded data indicated that the approach was flown in conditions of light turbulence, and at about 1320:47, excursions of vertical acceleration indicate that the aircraft encountered turbulence. At this time, speed began to increase, and both engines were reduced to near flight idle power. The pitch attitude initially decreased before the nose raised to a near level attitude until the landing flare.

At the time of the touchdown, the descent rate was 928 feet per minute, the speed was 105 kt, and the peak pitch angle was 5.45 degrees. The peak recorded vertical acceleration during the landing was 2.97G.

Continuing investigation

The investigation is continuing and will include further analysis and examination of the:

  • flight crew training, experience and fatigue
  • operator procedures and stable approach criteria
  • weather conditions
  • aircraft loading
  • recorded flight data
  • aircraft damage, and
  • related occurrences.



The information contained in this web update is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that will enhance the ATSB's understanding of the accident as outlined in this web update. As such, no analysis or findings are included in this update.



  1. Pilot Flying (PF) and Pilot Monitoring (PM) are procedurally assigned roles with specifically assigned duties at specific stages of a flight. The PF does most of the flying, except in defined circumstances; such as planning for descent, approach and landing. The PM carries out support duties and monitors the PF’s actions and the aircraft’s flight path.
  2. Eastern Daylight-saving Time was Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +11 hours.
  3. The elevation of Canberra Airport was 1,886 ft above mean sea level.
General details
Date: 19 November 2017   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1321 EDT   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Canberra Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Australian Capital Territory   Occurrence type: Hard landing  
Release date: 12 November 2019   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer ATR-Gie Avions de Transport Régional  
Aircraft model ATR 72-212A  
Aircraft registration VH-FVZ  
Serial number 1087  
Operator Virgin Australia Airlines  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Sector Turboprop  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Sydney, NSW  
Destination Canberra, ACT  
Last update 12 November 2019