‘Pilot error behind flight landing at wrong destination’

Melbourne: An AirAsia flight bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia landed in Melbourne last year in March due to pilot error, investigators reported on Thursday.

Passengers onboard AirAsia X flight XAX223 from Sydney on March 10, 2015, were left confused when their flight touched down at Melbourne rather than Kuala Lumpur, Xinhua news agency reported.

A report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), released on Thursday, said a pair of faulty earmuffs set off a series of events that resulted in the plane’s navigation system shutting down due to a coordinate input error.

The ATSB report said that usually the captain would inspect the plane’s exterior while the first officer stayed in the cockpit to complete position initialisation and alignment protocols.

However, due to his protective ear equipment being unavailable, the captain stayed in the cockpit to complete the procedures including inputting current coordinates into the navigation system.

Instead of typing the correct longitude of 151, 9.8, which should have been entered into the system as 15109.8, the pilot entered 01519.8, the coordinates for Cape Town in South Africa.

“The magnitude of this error adversely affected the aircraft’s navigation functions, global positioning system (GPS) receivers and some electronic centralised aircraft monitoring alerts,” the ATSB’s report said.

The ATSB said the crew had “a number of opportunities to identify and correct the error” but failed to heed a number of warning signs from the A330 plane’s systems.

The report said that efforts to rectify the issue upon discovery of the problem after takeoff only served to do more damage, further confusing guidance and control systems.

With navigation systems sending the plane in the wrong direction the pilots requested a return to Sydney but with weather conditions worsening, compounded by systems that assist with landing malfunctioning, air traffic control advised they instead head to Melbourne, Xinhua news agency added.

The flight reached Kuala Lumpur six hours behind schedule after spending three hours on the ground in Melbourne while the problem was fixed.

The ATSB advised that AirAsia X should upgrade its flight systems so as to avoid a recurrence of the problem in the future.

AirAsia X began direct flights to Australia in 2007, and currently flies between Kuala Lumpur and the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.