air safety

Sep 3, 2013

Qantas, Tigerair, make Hay the wrong way at 36,000 feet

Another week, another serious mid-air seperation incident notified by the

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

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.

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6 thoughts on “Qantas, Tigerair, make Hay the wrong way at 36,000 feet

  1. Boston the Dog

    There are checks and balances in the system Ben and it seems that the STCA, in this case, did its job. I don’t believe that the Chief Pilots of any of these airlines you note worry about a mid air collision over Australia – or anywhere else for that matter.

    The system has a lot of padding and, if that fails, there is always TCAS. I have been flying airliners for nearly 40 years and I believe TCAS is the best thing I have seen in terms of safety improvements for airliners in that period.

    Who used the term “Affordable Safety” some twenty years ago?

  2. Dan Dair

    I agree that TCAS is ‘the best thing’,
    However it’s use as a matter of course, should be for areas outside of normal ATC or to prevent accidents in the event of ATC (or pilot) failure.

    That said, you’re a pro-pilot & I’m not, so,
    In your opinion is Australian ATC better or worse than;
    It was 20 years ago.?
    Other ‘1st world’ nations.? (eg. Japan, USA, Europe)
    Also, do you think Australian ATC has any more reportable separation incidents that other ‘1st world’ nations.?

    Where / What do you believe the ‘padding’ in the system is.?
    (don’t use too loud a voice when you tell us, or someone will look at cutting it back)

  3. Boston the Dog


    Better is the answer to your first question.

    The comparison with other ATC systems is much harder to define as they are all effected to some degree by local politics. In my experience the ATC system in Germany and the UK far surpasses anything else – including Australia.

    BUT our ATC controllers are up there with the best. A better question could be, “who is the worst”? (I won’t go there.)

    Your last question regarding the padding comes from the use of computers, satellite communications integrated with transponders, data linking and good old fashioned radar plotting. The use of FMC driven aircraft have also allowed more accuracy in predicting down track positioning of aircraft.

    The world of air traffic controlling is a very complex one but it is MUCH safer than it was 20 years ago and much more efficient.

    Hope this answers your query.

  4. Zarathrusta

    Boston Dog,
    thanks for this info. I can’t help being curious about who is the worst but I won’t press you on that.

    What I would be interested in is do you think that the improvement in ATC has kept up with the increase in traffic and therefor the number of potential intersections of flight paths.

    I’d also be interested to know what procedural or system changes you think have made the difference?

  5. Ben Sandilands

    Let me in here.

    In previous investigations the problems have not been procedures but incompetence and incomplete or inadequate training and in some cases, fatigue has been referenced.

    This represents total management failure. The notion that TCAS will save us is in my opinion potentially criminally negligent in the event that it gives rise to charges of manslaughter. We have yet to see a single incident in which proper training and alert and professional behaviours would not have prevented the various serious incidents occurring.

    Any suggestion to the contrary is lame brained excuse making. I am not criticising AirServices Australia staff but their management.

  6. Boston the Dog

    Ben, you are correct. Like many airlines, the training you pay for and the equipment you invest in will come back in spades when things go astray. Unfortunately the political will over the last twenty years or so has caused many government departments to simply mark time in certain key areas, rather than progress. Possibly a case of over-administration and under-management.

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