Passenger-door seal damage caused by a catering truck caused unnerving onboard noise that led the pilots of a Qantas Airbus A380 to return to Sydney two hours into a scheduled flight to the US, an Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) report found.

The A380 conducted a routine departure from Sydney Airport on a scheduled flight to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Aug. 29. As it passed FL250, “a loud noise was detected coming from a door on the upper deck,” ATSB said. The crew determined the door was closed and locked “correctly and not at risk of opening.” But “passenger discomfort” combined with “the unknown nature of the issue” convinced the flight crew to return to Sydney. The aircraft dumped fuel and completed an “uneventful” arrival, ATSB said in its report, released Nov. 29.

Post-flight inspection found damage to a seal retainer and seal along the underside of an upper-deck passenger door. Investigators concluded the damage was caused by a catering truck that serviced the aircraft prior to the flight.

“Due to distraction of the non-normal operation of the catering truck, the damage to the door seal and seal retainer was not observed by the catering crew and therefore not reported to the flight crew or engineering,” ATSB said. “This resulted in the aircraft departing with the damaged door.” 

The report does not provide details explaining “non-normal” truck operation. Qantas is investigating the incident, ATSB added. 

The flight was rescheduled for later that same day, but flight crew duty-time limitations forced the airline to cancel that flight as well, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in a story published shortly after the incident.

Ramp accidents and incidents continue to be a costly problem for airlines, causing an estimated $10 billion-$12 billion annually in aircraft damage, injuries and related costs. The Flight Safety Foundation, responding to one airline’s plea for help, launched its Ground Accident Prevention (GAP) program in 2003 to help address the issue. GAP combined efforts by several industry organizations, including IATA, and developed training aids and one of the first global ground-incident surveys.

IATA has since launched a ground-damage database, an effort to standardize ground-incident reporting across the industry and use data to detect possible issues. About 220 airlines and ground handlers are submitting voluntary reports to the database, IATA said. Report data is de-identified, aggregated and trends are fed back to participants.

Sean Broderick,