An overloaded Qantas Airbus A330 flying from Sydney to Hong Kong was a risk to flight safety, air investigators have found.
A breakdown in the flow of paperwork controlling pallets of freight loaded on to the passenger aircraft led to it being overloaded, exceeding its maximum structural take-off weight by almost a tonne.
As a consequence, pilots configured the plane's flight computers for take-off based on the wrong data about the aircraft's weight and centre of gravity, which "had the potential to affect the safety of flight", investigators with the the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found.
A delay in notifying the error resulted in the aircraft making another 10 flights before maintenance checks for any damage were undertaken. The delay "presented a risk to the ongoing airworthiness of the aircraft", investigators said.
The safety bureau also trawled its records and found 28 freight load control incidents at Qantas in the 2½ years to last August, with the most recent being on July 8 last year.
The investigation also uncovered a lapse of quality control at the airline.
Qantas had not reviewed its Sydney freight loading centre for quality assurance in the 22 months before the incident on March 6, 2009.
These reviews were supposed to be carried out by senior Qantas management personnel every six months. The last review was conducted in May 2007, investigators found.
"The investigation could not discount that, had those quality assurance reviews been carried out, this occurrence might have been avoided," the bureau's investigators said.
No damage was subsequently found to the aircraft and Qantas has since made changes to the way it loads and checks freight into aircraft, reports incidents and has revamped its staff training, the bureau said.