Another week, another serious mid-air seperation incident
notified by the ATSB, this time involving around 340 seats combined in a Tigerair A320 and a Qantas 737-800 that didn't combine in the airspace near Hay last Friday afternoon.
Tigerair was headed from Melbourne to Cairns, and Qantas from Cairns to Melbourne, on reciprocal courses that converged on a point over south western NSW.
The real question that hasn't been answered despite a long and seemingly relentless string of such incidents in recent years in Australian airspace is whether or not they are occuring more often than they should in a professional controlled airspace environment in a country that believes it is part of the first world when it comes to aviation safety.
Does it serve any purpose for us to note every such inquiry? If the situation is one that ought to give rise to grave concern, you bet it does.
This must be something that the chief pilots of Qantas and Tigerair lie awake at night worrying about, not to mention those of foreign carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Cathay Pacific, who have had hundreds of their customers and collectively billions of dollars worth of fleet put in jeopardy by reportable episodes of unprofessional and negligent service delivery by AirServices Australia in recent years.
(This is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact documented in ATSB inquiries in which a common element appears to be incomplete or inadequate training of air traffic controllers by AirServices Australia.)
Those incidents made Australia seem like a second rate air safety performer masquerading as part of the modern world of air transport.
If we read the brief wording of the ATSB listing of this serious incident carefully it is clear that the investigation is concerned at this stage with what AirServices Australia did rather than the performance of the pilots of the airlines concerned.
The controller received a Short Term Conflict Alert (STCA) on an Airbus A320 and a Boeing 737 on a converging course. The controller initiated avoiding action by turning both aircraft and instructing the B737 to descend. Separation was maintained throughout, however there was a loss of separation assurance.
As part of the investigation, the ATSB will interview the air traffic controller and examine surveillance and audio recordings of the incident.
The investigation is expected to take several months to complete.