Aviation safety investigations & reports

Aircraft loading-related occurrence involving Airbus A330-303, VH-QPD, Sydney Airport, NSW, on 17 December 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 17 December 2017, a Qantas A330 aircraft, registered VH-QPD, was being loaded with freight in preparation for an international passenger flight from Sydney, New South Wales to Beijing, China. After landing in Beijing, the operator’s freight agent identified that the aircraft had been loaded incorrectly. As a result, the aircraft exceeded its maximum take-off weight on departure from Sydney by 494 kg.

What the ATSB found

A decision by the flight crew to uplift additional fuel for the flight to Beijing led to a reduction in the aircraft’s freight capacity. This required the operator’s load control department to re-issue the ‘load instruction report’ for the flight. The re-issued report required that a 2,005 kg freight pallet be replaced with a lighter unit weighing 1,130 kg.

The required cargo variation was not actioned by the loading supervisor as electronic messages associated with the revised loading instruction were acknowledged without being correctly interpreted. That action was probably influenced by the supervisor’s experience that load changes were accompanied by verbal advice, and that did not occur on this occasion.

In addition, the loading irregularity was not immediately reported, as required by the operator’s procedures.

What's been done as a result

As a result of this, and other freight loading occurrences, Qantas have updated the technology used by staff directly involved in freight operations. The update involved the introduction of handheld scanning devices that automate much of the freight confirmation and mobile communication process using printed barcode and scanning technology. The hand scanners were implemented at most domestic and international Qantas ports by June 2019.

Qantas also advised that in order to reduce the potential for communication errors between those responsible for loading the aircraft, an amendment to their Weight and Balance Manual was implemented on 1 September 2019. The changes formalised communication associated with loading changes.

Safety message

This incident highlights a loading error that led to a maximum take-off weight exceedance during the conduct of a high-capacity passenger flight from Sydney to Beijing. Planning and loading of freight within this sector is often conducted in a time-pressured environment where delays can lead to scheduling issues. Effective communication between all parties responsible for aircraft loading can assist in reducing errors in such an operating environment.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 1.58MB]

The occurrence


Safety analysis


Safety issues and actions

Sources and submissions

General details
Date: 17 December 2017   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1346 EDT   Investigation level: Defined - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Sydney Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Loading related  
Release date: 18 June 2020   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus  
Aircraft model A330-303  
Aircraft registration VH-QPD  
Serial number 0574  
Operator Qantas Airways  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Sector Jet  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Sydney, New South Wales  
Destination Beijing, China  
Last update 18 June 2020