On 28 September 2022 at 1000 local time, the pilot of a Piper PA-28-161 was conducting a trial introductory flight from Bankstown, New South Wales with one passenger on board. The pilot conducted aircraft weight and balance calculations based on the actual weight of the pilot and unverified weight of the passenger occupying the front seat beside the pilot.
During the take-off roll, there were no abnormal performance indications. After take-off, the aircraft did not perform as expected and the pilot observed a decreasing airspeed. The pilot considered the urban terrain ahead and rejected the take-off, landing on the remaining runway. The aircraft subsequently overran the runway and stopped in the overrun area.
The operator investigation revealed the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) may have been exceeded with the centre of gravity (COG) positioned at or forward of the forward limit.
The aircraft flight manual weight and balance documents were found to be misleading. The documents displayed a permitted MTOW for aircraft of a certain serial number range of which the incident aircraft did not apply. Additionally, the weight and balance documentation stated the data was valid for occupant weights within a certain range. The pilot was unaware of this restriction.
The pilot calculated the COG at take-off to be on the forward limit and elected to carry ballast in the cargo bay. This ballast was not secured and may have moved during the take-off.
As a result of this incident, the operator has implemented the following safety actions:
- The operator has amended company operations to permit a blanket MTOW below the permitted MTOW for all PA-28-161 aeroplanes to account for any variances.
- All pilots will be weighed on a regular basis if there is a likelihood of a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) or performance limit exceedance.
- The operator has implemented a structured ballast system including marked water containers, tie down straps and accompanying standard operating procedures.
This incident highlights the importance of ensuring accurate weights are used when completing weight and balance documentation as part of pre-flight preparations. Accurate passenger weights should be obtained if the pilot in command believes a weight or balance limitation may be exceeded.
Pilots should also have a thorough understanding of the aircraft flight manual weight and balance documentation, including any restrictions and limitations for all aircraft operated by the operator.
About this report
Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.