INCIDENT: Qantas Flight has a low fuel emergency

A Qantas 737 crew declared a low fuel emergency then landed safely. But sometimes the word “emergency” doesn’t quite describe what happened.

This incident happened on Monday July 18 of this year. It was Qantas flight QF-933, a scheduled domestic flight in Australia. It departs from Brisbane Airport (YBBN), heading to Perth Airport (YPPH). On this occasion, the airline used a Boeing 737-800 for the flight, which lasted five hours and forty minutes. At this time, we do not know how many people were on board the Qantas flight that had this low fuel emergency.

The crashed plane. Photo: Bahnfrend, CC BY-SA 4.0

Prior to the flight, air traffic control reportedly advised this and other flights to carry fuel for an additional 10 minutes. This was due to delays at the flight’s destination airport in Perth. The crew would have carried this extra fuel for their flight. They departed from Brisbane using runway 01R, forty minutes late.

Another possible factor in this Qantas flight that could have contributed to the low fuel emergency was its cruising altitude. Initially, the crew climbed their aircraft to FL340, reaching it about 20 minutes after departure. But an hour and ten minutes later, the plane began to descend. The flight then flew at FL280 for almost an hour. Generally speaking, airplanes consume more fuel the lower they fly in cruise.

INCIDENT: Qantas Flight has a low fuel emergency

The crashed plane. Photo credit: Bidgee, CC BY-SA 3.0 AU

Qantas 737 reaches Perth with low fuel?

The airplane then climbed to FL360 then to FL380. As they approached Perth, the crew had to enter a hold, as planned. But instead of 10 minutes, their wait has increased to 16 minutes. At this point, the Qantas flight crew requested a priority landing, advising ATC of their low fuel level. But the controller told them they would have to declare an emergency, to get priority.

That’s what the crew did. They eventually made a safe landing using runway 03 in Perth. After this landing, Qantas reported that the aircraft still had enough fuel on board for another 40 minutes. The airline’s chief pilot said the flight crew’s actions were in line with ICAO requirements and Qantas procedures.

The crashed plane. Photo credit: Bidgee, CC BY-SA 3.0 AU

However, the distress call the Qantas crew made due to their low fuel level means an investigation is now underway. Investigators will examine the planning and decision-making process of the crew, before and during the flight. They will also examine other factors, such as this mid-air descent, analyzing its role in the event.

The stricken aircraft remained in regular service, flying again twice that day. The registration of this Boeing 737-800 is VH-VZO. He is eleven years old and has been with Qantas since first commissioning in 2011. The airline named it “Bendigo”.