AirAsiaX pilot accidentally flew to Melbourne instead of Malaysia

An AirAsia X flight took off from Sydney and lost autopilot function after the pilots entered the wrong coordinates before takeoff, forcing the plane to land in an unplanned destination, according to a new report from the Australian Transport Safety Board.

An investigation into Flight 223 which was scheduled to reach Kuala Lumpur on March 10, 2015, found that "when setting up the aircraft's flight management and guidance system, the captain inadvertently entered the wrong longitudinal position of the aircraft" - making the aircraft's navigational system incorrect by 11,000km.

The captain apparently manually copied coordinates from a sign outside the cockpit window into the system, which the report states resulted in a "data entry error".

The ATSB report said the error was not spotted by the first officer when cross checking the flight management and guidance system entries. While entering the coordinates, the pilot incorrectly entered the longitude as 01519.8 East (15 degrees 19.8 minutes East) instead of 15109.8 East (151 degrees 9.8 minutes East).

"This resulted in a positional error in excess of 11,000km, which adversely affected the aircraft's navigation systems and some alerting systems", the ATSB said, adding this "equates to a position off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, about 11,000km from Sydney airport".

Normally it was the first office who keyed in the flight co-ordinates while the captain inspected the exterior of the plane, but as his ear protection wasn't available on that day, the pair swapped roles. However, the plane ended up in Melbourne, Australia.

"Despite a number of opportunities to identify and correct the error, it was not noticed until after the aircraft became airborne and started tracking in the wrong direction", investigators wrote.

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The crew chose to return to Sydney but because of bad weather and the degraded systems, the aircraft was instead diverted to Melbourne, where it landed safely.

If there is one graphic that best explains the safety risks posed by a departing AirAsiaX flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur previous year it is the one shown above in an ATSB final report into the incident.

The crew elected to discontinue the flight, but couldn't return to Sydney because the weather had deteriorated, so the aircraft was diverted to Melbourne. At this point the crew asked Sydney if they could turn around and land.

"This occurrence highlights that even experienced flight crew are not immune from data entry errors", the ATSB report said.

In handing down the report, the ATSB recommended equipment be upgraded and further training be offered to crew.

The low-priced carrier also developed a training bulletin and package for its flightcrews that "emphasised the correct operation and alignment of the air data and inertial reference system".

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