The unbelievable software flaw that led to a major flight incident

When it comes to flight engineering, you would hope that every possibility has been factored in to perfection, but a case in the United Kingdom shows how a simple mistake could have nearly catastrophic consequences.

A simple language flaw in boarding software was responsible for one flight being overweight by more than 1200 kilograms at Birmingham Airport in July last year.

This was due to the fact that the software recorded all female passengers with the title ‘Miss’ being classified as children, not adults, after a software upgrade.

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The report from the UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that the incident occurred because of a simple flaw in the programming of the IT system, which was due to the meaning of the title ‘Miss’ being interpreted by the system as a child and not an adult female.

This was because in the country where the system was programmed, Miss is a child and Ms is an adult female.

On the flight in question, the weight of passengers on the load sheet was below the actual weight of the passengers by 1244kg as a result.

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The flight was an early morning departure from Birmingham International to Majorca, on 21 July 2020.

The AAIB said that in this case, the difference in the calculation of take-off thrust was out by only 0.1 per cent – so “the safe operation of the aircraft was not compromised”.

Investigators said two other flights the same day experienced the same problem, but extra manual checks were immediately brought in to prevent the problem happening again.

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The AAIB said that an upgrade of the software system had now taken place to prevent a reoccurrence of the issue in future.

Are you a nervous flyer? How does this news of a software glitch with a ‘simple flaw’ make you feel about flying?

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Written by Ben



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