The UK Air Accident Investigations Branch has released a report about a “serious incident” that occurred with a TUI Boeing 737 in July 2020. The cause? Confusion over “Miss” vs. “Ms.”
Why a TUI Boeing 737 took off overweight
This incident involves a TUI Airways Boeing 737-800 with the registration code G-TAWG, which operated a flight from Birmingham to Palma de Mallorca on July 21, 2020.
Long story short, TUI had suspended operations for several months due to coronavirus restrictions, and prior to this flight, the reservations system from which the load sheet was produced had been upgraded.
Airlines use average weights of men, women, and children, to determine all kinds of operational data, including the takeoff weight, takeoff thrust, etc.
Unfortunately there was a fault with this new system:
- When a female passenger checked in for the flight or had the title “Miss” on their reservation, the system calculated the person’s weight as a child
- The airline uses a standard weight of 35kg for children, and a standard weight of 69kg for female adults
- With 38 females checked in incorrectly and misidentified as children, the plane had a takeoff weight that was 1,244kg higher than calculated
Interestingly the pilots had noted the discrepancy — the flight plan gave an expected takeoff weight of 66,495kg, while the load sheet gave a weight that was 1,606kg less than that of the flight plan.
The pilots commented that the number of children shown on the load sheet was high, at 65 compared to the 29 that were expected. However, the captain recalled thinking that this was plausible, with how many people had been changing flights last minute due to travel restrictions.
Did this end up being a serious issue?
While UK aviation authorities investigated this as a “serious incident,” and there’s a detailed report that took roughly nine months to complete, in the end the flight operated without incident:
- Nothing unusual was noticed by the crew on departure, and the flight continued normally
- After the fact it was determined that the airspeed for takeoff should have been one knot greater than what was used, and that the thrust required should have been 88.9%, rather than 88.3%
To be clear, the plane didn’t take off above its maximum takeoff weight, but rather took off over its calculated takeoff weight (which has the potential to be equally problematic, if the discrepancy is big enough).
Fortunately this didn’t end up being a major issue, but it was still investigated thoroughly. One of the reasons aviation is so safe is because incidents are taken seriously even if they don’t end in catastrophe. Following the incident, TUI Airways introduced a new system that made sure that this mistake wouldn’t happen again.
There’s a lot that goes into flight operations running smoothly, and at times even the smallest mistake can have big implications. It’s fascinating to see the investigation that has gone into a July 2020 incident of a TUI 737 flight, where the weight of adult females was calculated as the weight of children, due to the title “Miss.”
Fortunately the flight operated as planned, though it’s an interesting story nonetheless.
(Tip of the hat to Christopher)