Claims that controller who lost Virgin jet allowed to stay at post
ATC officer was ‘counselled at console’ and kept on duty after losing Virgin Australia jet according to informed sources.
The air traffic controller who ‘inhibited’ the flight path trace of a Virgin Australia 737-800 rendering it unknown and undetected by the air navigation system and other airlines on the busy Sydney-Brisbane route last Friday 28 September was ‘counselled at the console’ by Airservices management and allowed to continue to separate dozens of high capacity airliners after what some sources have described as the most dangerous ATC incident in this country.
This is an appalling revelation by any test.
Keeping the controller in question on duty after such an incident is contrary to Airservices own safety policy, and indicates that the disarray in the air navigation services is so dire that it exposes the airliners of foreign carriers using Australian airspace to risks that intolerable in their own airspace and excluded under the terms of their own air safety regulations.
It is also alleged that a determined effort was made by Airservices management to ‘inhibit’ the proper reporting of the incident to the safety investigator, the ATSB, which announced yesterday that an inquiry had begun.
According to additional information received by Plane Talking following publication of yesterday’s report, the continuation of a relatively inexperienced controller in a position of responsibility after sending a passenger jet through some of the busiest air space in the world in a manner that rendered it effectively beneath the notice of the ATC system lead to protests by other controllers.
There was an exchange between management and controllers, and further disagreements over efforts to minimise or keep away from a full level inquiry the failure of process that caused the track of the Virgin Australia flight to be ‘inhibited’ to black against a grey background on ATC consoles.
One of the Airservices officers who contacted Plane Talking said that the inhibiting of an aircraft’s track happens to every flight in the system, but usually automatically after the flight has landed at its destination.
He said it could be done inadvertently by an officer who might be busy, tired and distracted, with a simple keyboard entry.
In the Virgin Australia incident the jet was near Williamtown (Newcastle) at a time when a military flight descending to the air force base, would have had its flight path trace manually inhibited.
The Virgin Australia 737-800 wasn’t detected by air traffic controllers until it its pilots, unaware that they were not being actively monitored by the system, announced their impending arrival at the point where they would normally receive further instructions for their descent to Brisbane airport.
Senator Xenophon has issued a statement drawing attention to wider issues and urging CASA, the air safety regulator, to step up its oversight of Airservices.