Fatigued Virgin Australia Pilot Entered Wrong Data into Low Flying Plane

17th Jul 2015

As the investigation of the reasons the Virgin Australia Los Angeles-Melbourne flight on 15th August, 2013 was flying too low on its approach to the Melbourne International Airport concludes, the safety investigators may have a reason as to why.

According to the investigation, the pilot of the Virgin Australia flight was fatigued and then entered the wrong data into the plane.

What Happened?

On 13th August, 2013, the plane in question was returning from Los Angeles, United States, with 289 people on board, including 272 passengers and 17 members of the crew, and was waiting for the landing clearance from the ground. However, when the signal finally came, the plane's landing gear and flaps were already set before the autopilot kicked in and increased the rate of descent to 1,500 feet per minute from 700 ft. per min.

The plane's first officer immediately realized their rate of descent was over the crew's expectations. The pilot attempted to decrease the rate then, before switching off the autopilot and taking manual control of the aircraft.

Fortunately, the pilot was eventually successful in correcting the plane's path and bringing it and the people on board to the ground safely.

ATSB: "Pilot Inadvertently Entered and Erroneous Height against a Way Point"

In its final report regarding the incident with the Virgin Australia LA-Melbourne flight, the Australia Transport and Safety Bureau concluded that the plane's captain "inadvertently entered and erroneous height against a way point".

As a result of this, the plane increased its rate of descent and flew lower than it was meant.

According to the investigators, the main reason for this was the fatigue experienced by the captain and his crew due to being awake for an extended period of time. A direct flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne takes about 14 to 15 hours.

The ATSB investigators also concluded the:

"Incident reinforces the importance of monitoring descent profiles, irrespective of any expectation that the descent is being appropriately managed by the auto-flight system, and taking appropriate action when a deviation from the desired profile is detected."