FAA Focus Team Issues Weight and Balance Program Guidance

To reduce risk of accidents due to cargo shifting, FAA published revised standards for cargo loading and restraints.

As part of its holistic review of cargo operations, the FAA recently released two documents regarding commercial air carrier weight and balance programs: Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 17003 and draft Advisory Circular (AC) 120-27F, Aircraft Weight and Balance Control.

The publications address regulator concerns brought to light after a 2015 NTSB safety recommendation. In that report, the NTSB’s primary conclusion was that inadequate procedures caused improper cargo restraint, resulting in the National Air Cargo Boeing 747 accident in Afghanistan, in which armored military vehicles broke loose during takeoff and damaged hydraulic systems, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable.

Shortly after the NTSB released its report, the FAA established the Cargo Focus Team. Its mission includes reviewing and updating regulation and guidance to ensure air carrier manuals comply with the code of federal regulations and manufacturer’s weight and balance manual operating limitations.

To that end, the SAFO Bulletin recommends that operators review internal weight and balance procedures to confirm adherence with manufacturer recommendations; the draft AC updates guidance for weight and balance control program development, incorporating safety risk-management practices and alternative methods for calculating standard average passenger
weight.

This is the second draft iteration of AC 120-27F. The first was published in 2013 and met strong opposition when it removed suggested standard weights in lieu of passenger weight surveys. The more recent draft version references standard weights as provided by the Centers for Disease Control. Comments on draft AC 120-27F were due May 8. 

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