On August 17, Ryanair flight FR 11 entered the runway after already being delayed for 1.5 hours, only to exit at the first available opportunity. After being jokingly welcomed to Stansted from where we had very nearly departed, we proceeded to wait for at least 1.5 hours more while the wrong cargo was being unloaded to make way for the correct one.

The crew told us the delay was due to having loaded the wrong cargo, and made it very clear to us that this wasn't their fault, which I have no reason to doubt. The pilot made it sound like the tower told them to abort. We were already on the runway and turned back at the very last minute.

My question is this: Does the tower have the authority to tell an aircraft to abort take-off for having loaded the wrong cargo?

My impression is that the tower is a traffic cop and safety officer rolled into one, and operational questions such as which plane does this cargo belong are outside their normal range of concerns.

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    $\begingroup$ Misloaded cargo is a safety issue, because if the weight differs from what was calculated on the weight and balance paperwork, the plane could be overloaded or out of trim (balance). Results could range from nothing to a fatal accident. Other concerns are excess quantities or prohibited hazardous materials being carried on a passenger flight. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Aug 29 '18 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth I did submit a case with Ryanair who have compensated me to the statutory amount without challenging my claim. $\endgroup$
    – rath
    Oct 11 '18 at 11:06

Yes, the tower can tell an aircraft to abort take off and instruct it to return to the gate, although it probably never got that far in this case, I'm guessing that they got to the runway or were asked to line up when the request came in. This was probably at the direction of Ryanair, since the tower would otherwise not have any information on the wrong cargo being loaded, nor would it really care.

I'm guessing at this part....

The back-and-forth probably went like this:

Tower: Ryanair 1234 line up and wait
Ryanair: Line up and wait, Ryanair 1234
Tower: Ryanair 1234 taxi on runway to Delta, call company
Ryanair: Taxi delta, call company

The tower probably didn't relate too much information about what is wrong, the pilots have the ability to talk to the dispatcher for Ryanair to get more information.

Regardless, a tower controller can tell an aircraft that a take-off clearance is rejected, even after the take-off run begins. It is up to the pilot to determine if they can safely reject the take-off and to follow those instructions.

The probability though that the tower knew that the incorrect cargo was loaded is probably zero, at least until somebody from Ryanair called them and had them stop the take off. I'm guessing that they didn't actually get take-off clearance (line up and wait is not take-off clearance) and either they were asked to line up, or they were waiting to enter the runway before they were told to go back (and taxiing on the runway is the easiest way to turn around).

Typically Tower will not call a RTO unless there is a safety concern like an incursion or they notice a wing fell off. Once clearance is given it is rarely rejected. If they had gotten clearance Tower would probably have advised them to call company "once in the air" rather than reject a take off.

If you want to know what it sounds like for Tower to reject a take-off, listen to this YouTube about a near miss regarding similar call signs and two aircraft taking off at the same time.

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    $\begingroup$ Your example comms is very plausible, but I think it's important to emphasize that the answer to the question as literally asked is "no": although ATC can instruct an aircraft to abort take-off, they wouldn't do so for a non-safety reason. What you've described, where they interrupt departure checks to request they call company, is far more likely. It's also possible tower wasn't involved and the aircraft heard from Ryanair directly via some other communication method. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Aug 28 '18 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @rath Depending on what was in the cargo, it may have been illegal to transport it to the country you were flying to, so it is plausible that it wasn't their fault (at least not the pilots), but somebody at Ryanair loaded the wrong cargo. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Aug 28 '18 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ It could also be possible for the cargo to have a safety effect: e.g. if the weight of the loaded cargo was significantly more than the planned weight, the aircraft could be over MTOW or out of CG limits. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Aug 28 '18 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ Nevermind the CG and MTOW, all performance calculation are out of whack... rotation speeds, stop distance... a safe takeoff is not guaranteed if you put the wrong cargo in the hold $\endgroup$
    – Radu094
    Aug 28 '18 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ "This was probably at the direction of Ryanair, since the tower would otherwise not have any information on the wrong cargo being loaded, nor would it really care." Exactly. The tower doesn't force the airplane to stand down, there's no safety risk after all. They're merely the messenger. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Aug 28 '18 at 18:33

There's no way to know for sure, since UK does not allow us to listen to ATC transmissions, BUT...

I seriously doubt the tower told them to abort the takeoff. I just don't see the company calling the tower unless it's a safety related problem. The company almost certainly called the aircraft who then had to inform the tower they had to return to the gate and request taxi instructions.

For the company to call the tower for an operational situation would most likely not be acceptable and it would involve an extra step anyway. They would call the aircraft directly, either over the radio or through an ACARS message.

Not the pilots' fault, nor ATC's fault, but the airline's fault, for sure.


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