A baggage loading issue meant that an Air Canada plane didn’t behave as its crew expected. And then two weeks later, it happened again!
All aircraft need to operate with their centre of gravity (CG) being between certain limits. And this means that the aircraft’s passengers AND their suitcases, need to be in the right place. But in the case of two recent Air Canada flights, flight crews discovered that baggage wasn’t loaded where their paperwork indicated.
The first incident happened on the 19th of December. It involved flight AC-234, from Vancouver International (CYVR) in British Columbia to Edmonton International (CYEG), Alberta, Canada. The aircraft had 160 passengers and 6 crew on board. Its crew lined up with runway 26L in Vancouver and started their takeoff run. But shortly before reaching rotation speed, the aircraft’s nose rose off the ground.
Air Canada Handling Baggage Error(s)
The crew held the nose down manually and continued their takeoff. Once in the air, the crew decided to continue to their destination. Afterwards, Canada’s TSB reported that ground crews had loaded all of the Air Canada flight’s baggage into the aft hold. But according to the flight’s load sheet, 89 bags should have been in the forward cargo hold. The airline subsequently announced that it is investigating the circumstances around this event.
Then on the 3rd of January, something eerily similar happened, this time on flight AC-557. It flew from Los Angeles International (KLAX) in the United States, to Vancouver International, in Canada. This flight had 103 people on board. On this Air Canada flight, the baggage was in the forward hold, when it should have been at the rear.
The crew lined up with runway 25R in LAX and commenced their takeoff roll. Predictably, when they rotated the aircraft, they found that the nose was a bit heavy. On this occasion, the crew had a look at the load sheet once they were airborne. Having contacted their airline, the Air Canada crew discovered that all baggage and other cargo was in the forward hold.
The crew calculated their actual CG was 5.8% forward of the computed takeoff CG. And as with their colleagues on the 19th of December, they continued to their destination. They landed in Vancouver with no further issues. Interestingly, the aircraft type was the same in both incidents: a Boeing 737-8.
Fortunately, aircraft designs incorporate generous safety margins, helping to minimize the effects of such mistakes. In some cases, crews can ask passengers to move elsewhere in the cabin, if necessary. But such load mismatches are still serious. Air Canada will no doubt investigate how the baggage ended up in the wrong place, in these two incidents. Some aircraft designs, especially in all-cargo roles, incorporate load sensors in their landing gear, to help catch such errors.
But even with good margins in place, such loading errors can have other grievous implications. One such example is the carrying of pets. Typically, there is no heating in the cargo hold. However, pilots can switch on the heating in the hold of some aircraft designs. But the pet has to be in the right area. And even if pilots discover the mistake later, not all holds have heating.