Qantas, Air China jets flew too close after Australian ATC forgot they were converging at same altitude
Another day, another third world screw up by Australian air traffic control.
This time an ATSB report out this morning highlights how on an Air China A330-200, flying from Melbourne to Shanghai, and a Qantas 737-800 flying from Sydney to Darwin, were known to Airservices to be flying at the same altitude of 36,000 feet and on converging paths as they entered airspace above Tindal, south of the NT capital, and then forgot about them until an air traffic control system alert went off.
The incident happened on 6 April this year, and would have put the lives of more than 400 people at risk had each jet been flying full.
The lapse occurred when one controller was handing over the area he was controlling to a replacement.
When the conflict alert drew the attention of the replacement controller to the situation the jets were separated by the minimum required lateral space of five nautical mile.
However momentum and reaction time saw that distance shrink to 3.5 nautical miles before orders to one aircraft to climb and another to descend to different levels restored the distance between them to levels required by the safety regulations.
On Tuesday the ATSB dissected an incident in which an air traffic control with a ‘mental model problem’ sent a Crown Casino Gulfstream G-IV jet headlong in a descent path under the nose of an approaching Virgin Australia Boeing 737 while both jets were vectored under professional control into the same part of the sky near Armidale last October.
There are serious issues of professional and managerial competency in Airservices. They are being addressed in part by a broader study by the ATSB ordered by the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, in February, and various changes in command in the air navigation services provider.
The question as to whether they are being addressed with sufficient urgency and depth remains unanswered, as jets continue to be mishandled in Australian airspace with unacceptable frequency.