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Airplane takes off a tonne heavier than expected after computer error weighs adults as children

A flight from the UK to Spain took off with more than a tonne of unexpected weight after a software error classified female passengers using the title “Miss” as children. This led to the flight’s load sheet estimating the weight of 38 female passengers as 38 kg or 77 pounds each, the standard weight for children, instead of 69 kg or 152 pounds, the standard weight used for female adults.

The error was classified as a “serious incident” by the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) but did not affect the flight’s safety. Despite a discrepancy of 1,244 kg (2,743 pounds) between the expected and actual mass of the aircraft, the thrust used in takeoff by the pilot was only “marginally less” than what was required. “This meant the safe operation of the aircraft was not compromised,” concluded the AAIB.

The error was introduced to the software after the flight operator suspended operations for several months due to COVID-19 restrictions. During this time, it upgraded its IT systems, but in the country where the software was programmed, the honorific “Miss” is used for children while “Ms” is used for female adults. The error affected two more flights from the same operator that same day, July 21, 2020, before it was corrected.

According to a report by the Press Association, the flight was operated by Anglo-German company Tui. In statement the company said: “The health and safety of our customers and crew is always our primary concern. Following this isolated incident, we corrected a fault identified in our IT system. As stated in the report, the safe operation of the flight was not compromised.”

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