A Qantas Boeing 737-800 inbound to Perth (PER) on Monday, July 18, announced a mayday after running low on fuel. The jet was in the last stages of a nearly six-hour flight across from Brisbane (BNE) when Perth air traffic controllers put the aircraft into an extended holding time. But with fuel onboard already running low, the pilots made the unusual call of a fuel mayday.
The incident concerns flight QF933 worked by VH-VZO, an 11-year-old Boeing 737-800. Those narrowbody planes are the workhorses of Qantas’ domestic network, crisscrossing Australia, and rarely causing an issue.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requires flights to take off with fuel reserves of at least 30 minutes beyond the planned flying period. On Monday morning, while still at Brisbane Airport, the pilots were recommended to expect a ten-minute delay outside Perth, so they ordered an extra 10 minutes worth of fuel being pumped into the tanks.
Flight tracking data has VH-VZO departing at 06:52 and tracking down towards the north of Adelaide before proceeding out over the Bight towards Perth. Towards the end of the flight, back over land and roughly north of Ravensthorpe, the plane banked sharply to the right to start a big parabolic-shaped hold. The pilots stayed in that hold for 10 minutes.
The Sydney Morning Herald broke the story, and according to that report, the pilots risked landing without the legal minimum of fuel reserves if they didn’t declare a fuel mayday. That call let the Qantas Boeing skip ahead of four other planes waiting to land at Perth. The newspaper says the jet flew into Perth ATC airspace with 20 minutes’ worth of extra fuel beyond the required minimum reserved, but after holding and burning fuel, Perth ATC said the pilots the hold time was out to 16 minutes.
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“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating a low fuel event involving Boeing 737-838, registered VH-VZO that occurred abeam Wave Rock, Western Australia on 18 July 2022,” states a report from Australia’s Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). “During descent, the crew announced an emergency due to the amount of fuel onboard and proceeded to land at Perth. The aircraft landed with reserves intact.”
The mayday fast-tracked the plane into Perth Airport, where it landed without further incident. Other media information says the plane landed with the needed 30 minutes minimum fuel reserve plus 10 minutes. Qantas advised those outlets their pilots had done the right thing, landed with fuel well above the minimum needs, and there was never a safety problem.
VH-VZO took 5 hours and 56 minutes to complete the sector. At 2,246 miles (3,614 kilometers), it is one of Australia’s longest domestic routes.
Qantas operates a mix of widebody and narrowbody aircraft on the run
Depending on takeoff weight and factors such as headwinds (which can be an issue on those westbound transcontinental flights), a fully fueled Boeing 737-800 can potentially fly up to 3,582 miles (5,765 kilometers).
The ATSB is investigating and says they will release the final report after that investigation concludes.
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