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Qantas pilots’ skill averts mid-air disaster over Adelaide

September 23, 2013 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59The renowned skill of Qantas pilots has averted a mid-air disaster over the outskirts of  Adelaide. The flight crew of two Qantas A330s heading towards each other ignored air traffic control instructions that had set them on a collision course. They took immediate evasive action instead.

“There was no impact to passengers,” Qantas stated, memorably.

One Qantas flight  (QF581) was heading from Sydney to Perth and the other  (QF576) from Perth to Sydney.

The passenger jets, with a combined capacity of about 600 passengers, reportedly came very close. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph said the planes came within about 200 metres of a mid-air collision 19 kilometres west of  the city, in clear skies at about midday Friday. The paper blamed a “traffic-control blunder”, as did several other media outlets.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has begun an immediate investigation. The ATSB confirmed that one of the planes had received an alert from its traffic collision avoidance system, and that the near miss has been officially classified as a “serious incident”.  An air traffic controller has been stood down, but that’s routine during an investigation.

The ATSB investigation will include:

  • Review and analysis of the recorded radar and audio data;
  • Review of relevant air traffic control procedures, documentation and training;
  • Interviews with the air traffic controllers and flight crew.

The ATSB aims to complete its detailed investigation this month.

Qantas confirmed two of its Airbus A330 aircraft were involved, but denied the incident was a near-miss, ABC News reported. The ATSB, however, confirmed that the pilots had overcome a “loss of separation” between the planes – an occurrence known popularly as a near miss.

“Indications are that the loss of separation occurred when one of the Qantas aircraft received clearance to climb from air traffic control,” Qantas said in an issued statement.

“Our pilots followed standard operating procedures in re-establishing the required separation distance following the alert from the onboard notification system.

“There was no impact to passengers.”

The word “impact” achieves extra significance when used in that context. Nobody wants an impact.

Controlled airspace, as exists around Adelaide, requires planes to stay 1000 feet (305 metres) apart vertically and five nautical miles (9.3 kilometres) apart horizontally.

The ABC quoted a passenger saying she felt “a sensation of certainly dropping down, like one drop and then another drop and then we must have just levelled back out”.

Another passenger, aboard the Perth-bound flight, said he saw the other plane flying below, but didn’t think anything of it. It’s not unusual to see other planes in flight.

“They know what they’re doing,” the passenger said, a statement that testifies to the high reputation of Qantas.

The ATSB stated:

The ATSB has commenced an investigation into a loss of separation between an Airbus A330, registered VH-EBO (EBO), on a scheduled passenger service from Sydney, New South Wales, to Perth, Western Australia, and an Airbus A330, registered VH-EBS (EBS), on a flight from Perth to Sydney. The LOS occurred about 10 NM (19 km) west of Adelaide, South Australia at 1213 Eastern Standard Time on 20 September 2013. 

Airservices Australia advised that EBS was cruising at flight level (FL) 390. The flight crew of EBO were cleared to climb from FL 380 to FL 400 and the aircraft commenced the climb. Soon after, the controller cancelled the clearance and the aircraft descended back to FL 380. The flight crew of EBS received a resolution advisory alert from their aircraft’s traffic collision avoidance system. 

Written by Peter Needham

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