Watch Now

Lessons from Qantas violation for overweight cargo

A Qantas A330-300 like this one exceeded its weight limit because of a cargo mix up, authorities said. (Photo: Qantas)

Poor communication between crew and load planners led a Qantas Airways (AX: QAN) passenger plane to take off above approved weight limit and spurred the airline to deploy hand-held scanning devices to automate most of the freight confirmation process, according to the results of an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

On Dec. 17, 2017, a Qantas A330-300 departed Sydney 1,047 pounds above the maximum takeoff weight, but the problem wasn’t discovered until the plane landed in Beijing.  

The crew didn’t report any control or performance problems, but continued operation of an aircraft that has exceeded its certified weight can lead to unaccounted structural damage and poses a safety risk.

The ATSB, Australia’s equivalent to the U.S.’s National Transportation Safety Board, determined that revised loading instructions to replace a 4,420-pound pallet with a lighter Unit Load Device because the plane took on extra fuel were not correctly understood by the load supervisor, who believed that the electronic message was supposed to be accompanied by verbal notice over radio or telephone. Using his tablet device connected to the freight management system, the ramp worker acknowledged the message from the load control office but didn’t change the containers in the forward hold.

Qantas has since formalized a procedure for verbal communication to accompany any changes in the load instruction.

The incident highlights the importance of communication between all parties responsible for aircraft loading, especially in passenger operations that often are under significant time pressures and where delays can lead to scheduling issues, the ATSB report said. 

Prompted by the loading mistake, Qantas last June completed the replacement of iPads with hand-held scanning devices and printed bar codes that automate much of the freight confirmation process before loading onto an aircraft. 

(Click here for more FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.)

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]