Emirates Flight 407 was an Emirates flight flying from Melbourne to Dubai using the Airbus A340-500. On 20 March 2009, the flight failed to take off properly at Melbourne Airport, hitting several structures at the end of the runway before eventually climbing enough to return to the airport for a safe landing. Although no fatalities or injuries resulted, damage to the aircraft was severe enough for the event to be classified by Australian Transport Safety Bureau as an "accident". It has been described "as close as we have ever come to a major aviation catastrophe in Australia" by aviation officials.
The scheduled flight departed from Melbourne as planned at 22:30 using the 3,657-metre-long (11,998 ft) Runway 16. 1,043 m (3,422 ft) before the end of the runway, travelling at a speed of 270 kilometres per hour (168 mph), the captain ordered the first officer to rotate. As the aircraft pitched upward it failed to leave the ground and the tail section struck and continued to scrape along the runway. The captain took over the controls and applied maximum thrust on all four engines by using the Take-off/Go-around (TOGA) detent. After exhausting the entire length of the runway, the aircraft failed to become airborne, and did not leave the ground until 148 m (486 ft) beyond the end of the runway. The captain later said "I thought we were going to die. It was that close".
Subsequently, the aircraft hit a strobe light at the end of the runway and continued to climb with difficulties. At 350 m (1,148 ft) beyond the end of the runway, the landing gear hit and damaged the 1.8 m (6 ft) high localiser antenna array operated by Airservices Australia. At 500 m (1,640 ft) beyond the end of the runway, the aircraft barely missed the 2.24 m (7 ft) tall airport perimeter fence. It was also reported that after clearing the airport perimeter, the aircraft cleared a small brick building by only 50 centimetres (20 in).
The aircraft eventually climbed away over Port Phillip Bay. The first officer then reviewed the take-off performance calculations in his electronic flight bag, and discovered that he had understated the aircraft's weight by 100 tonnes (262.9 tonnes instead of 362.9). This meant that an incorrect flex temp was applied, which had resulted in a lower than necessary engine thrust and consequently insufficient acceleration and airspeed.
The pilots finished dumping fuel over the bay by 23:27 then they received a report of smoke in the cabin. They requested an immediate return, which ATC granted, and they returned to the airport at 23:36 without further incident.
Despite having tailstrike protection built into the A340-500, the rear pressure bulkhead and the underlying structure were severely damaged during the take-off roll when the tail struck the runway with considerable force. The aircraft also suffered extensive damage to the hull as it scraped along the runway, a large surface having been completely stripped of its external sheet. During the investigation, it was discovered that the jet had experienced at least one but possibly three or more tail strikes during previous take-off rolls.
The aircraft was not written off, but was instead returned to Airbus by way of a low altitude flight without pressurisation routed from Melbourne to Toulouse on 19 June via Perth, Singapore, Dubai and Cairo with the crew flying below 12,000 feet.
The aircraft made its first revenue flight after repairs on 1 December 2009 as flight EK424 and remained in service operating short to medium haul international flights out of Dubai, until it was withdrawn from service in October 2014. It was scrapped later that year.
After being interviewed by investigators, the two pilots of the flight returned to Dubai. The captain and the first officer were asked to resign from Emirates upon their arrival in Dubai, and both did so.
The captain of Flight 407 had slept for only six hours during the twenty-four hours before the accident, while the first officer had had eight hours sleep in the same period. The captain had flown a total 99 hours during the prior month, one hour short of the maximum 100 flying hours allowed by Emirates, while the first officer had flown 90 hours in the same period.
The accident investigation was performed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). Central to the investigation was how the first officer had come to use the wrong aircraft weight, why that mistake was not picked up before take off, and why the flight crew had not realized the acceleration was so sluggish until they had nearly reached the end of the runway.
Studies were also carried out that showed that aircrew could have difficulty recognising that incorrect data had been entered in avionic equipment resulting in poor take-off performance. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a safety recommendation to the United States Federal Aviation Administration and a safety advisory notice to the International Air Transport Association and the Flight Safety Foundation. In addition Airbus are investigating the development of software to help pilots recognise unusual or poor performance on take-off.
In October 2011, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released the findings of their investigation into the incident. They found that human error was the cause, and urged the development of technological aids that would alert pilots to incorrect data entry or insufficient take-off speed.
In response to the incident, Emirates reviewed its pre-flight procedures, mandating the duplication of laptop computers used for pre-flight planning so as to ensure dual data entry. They are also developing an avionics system for take-off acceleration-monitoring and alerting. Airbus updated its software to detect erroneous data. In October 2011, they announced plans to include a software program to calculate the required runway length. Furthermore, Airbus are developing a monitoring system to compute required acceleration rates and apply a "reasonableness test" to data input and alert the pilot to any potential errors. The system could potentially be certified by 2015.