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air safety

Jan 27, 2016

Traffic chopper, Qantas, Virgin 737s get too close over Melbourne

Updated* Australia Day could have started (and ended) badly for two passenger jets with more than 300 seats and a traffic chopper near Melbourne airport on Tuesday.

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A company photo of a Robinson R44
A company photo of a Robinson R44

Updated* Australia Day could have started (and ended) badly for two passenger jets with more than 300 seats and a traffic chopper near Melbourne airport on Tuesday.

According to the ATSB notification, a Qantas and a Virgin Australia 737 and the Robinson 44 helicopter were involved in a ‘loss of separation’ and a ‘breakdown of coordination’  while ‘near Essendon Airport’ at one minute past seven am on the morning of the special national day of celebration.

Not only that, but the very brief ATSB entry describes the location as five kilometres west of Essendon Airport, which is very close to the big one, Melbourne Airport, which even the most obtuse bureaucrats fearful of causing public alarm would know was the facility 99.99 percent most likely to be being used by two Australian airliners with a total body seat and crew count of around 350 people if full.

Putting aside the skills of the ATSB in attempting to say almost nothing that will excite media attention ever about anything, this is a curious incident to say the least.

The helicopter in question is on the aircraft register in Australia as one of four of the type operated by The Australian Traffic Network Pty Ltd, which according to its website claims “100 percent  of metro commercial radio stations” in the nation, as well as having a high presence on TV networks.

Which will be news to those of us who though the gripping live accounts of gridlock from the ‘Channel X news chopper, brought to you by X law firm specialising in workplace injury claims’ or whatever, was actually their helicopter. But we may be missing something.

The main thing, without prejudice to any party, is that helicopters getting too close to passenger jets, or vice versa,  over any part of suburban Australia is of even bigger concern than a truck breaking down in a critical part of a motorway at peak hour and by a huge margin.

It might even be sufficiently newsworthy to be reported by one of the commercial radio or TV networks, especially if the  ‘traffic news helicopter’ or Boeing 737, is brought down on a highway, or housing estate, near you, courtesy of whomever.

This sounds like another exciting ATSB report in the making, if we are patient and vigilant.

Updated* The ATSB reveals more this morning not on its notifications page, but on the front page pointer, which says that operations at Melbourne Airport changed from runway 16 for arrivals and runway 27 for departures to having all landings and takeoffs on runway 16.

Why air traffic control at a major airport would do such a thing is one question, and how well it did it is another obvious question.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.

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3 comments

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3 thoughts on “Traffic chopper, Qantas, Virgin 737s get too close over Melbourne

  1. comet

    You could imagine the live TV traffic report with a Boeing 737 approaching from the left of frame.

  2. Mark McNicol

    Just letting you know the traffic helicopter was on the ground at Essendon airport at 7:01 on the 26/1/16.
    Not sure where the ATSB got their info from.

  3. Ben Sandilands

    Mark,

    Given that the ATSB couldn’t even correctly describe the location of the incident, their handling of this inquiry is in the cross hairs.

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