Wait. There’s even more late breaking news

Two Qantas A330-200s, with a combined capacity of around 600 passengers, were involved in a very serious near miss or loss of separation incident near Adelaide shortly after noon today.

The jets came within 700 feet of each other in the incident at a very high combined velocity, which occurred as they were flying mirror image flight paths in opposite directions between Perth and Sydney.

QF581 was flying from Sydney to Perth at 38,000 feet. QF576 was en route from Perth to Sydney at 39,000 feet.

This is how the ATSB summarises the events that followed, after the Qantas flight to Perth was cleared to climb through the altitude at which the flight to Sydney was cruising toward it on an opposing flight path.

The ATSB has commenced an investigation into a loss of separation between an Airbus A330, registered VH-EBO (EBO), on a scheduled passenger service from Sydney, New South Wales, to Perth, Western Australia, and an Airbus A330, registered VH-EBS (EBS), on a flight from Perth to Sydney. The LOS occurred about 10 NM (19 km) west of Adelaide, South Australia at 1213 Eastern Standard Time on 20 September 2013.

Airservices Australia advised that EBS was cruising at flight level (FL) 390. The flight crew of EBO were cleared to climb from FL 380 to FL 400 and the aircraft commenced the climb. Soon after, the controller cancelled the clearance and the aircraft descended back to FL 380. The flight crew of EBS received a resolution advisory alert from their aircraft’s traffic collision avoidance system.  

The investigation is continuing and will include:

  • the review and analysis of the recorded radar and audio data
  • the review of relevant air traffic control procedures, documentation and training
  • interviews with the air traffic controllers and flight crew.

The investigation is anticipated to be completed by September 2014.

Information says that as the aircraft followed the RA directions the amount of space between them diminished to about 700 feet.

This may be the nearest two airliners have come to each other while at cruise altitudes and speeds in Australian airspace.

However it has now been confirmed by CASA that an AirServices Australia controller has been stood down following the incident.

The ABC has also reported that a pilot from another ‘multi national airline’ (!) who was monitoring the communications said he heard the pilot on one of the A330s say “I didn’t even know you were there” and has interpreted this as meaning that the TCAS equipment on one of the Qantas jets may not have been working.

That is not necessarily a correct reading of the comment, since it may have been a reference to not realising there was another Qantas flight in the general area flying the reverse routing well before the TCAS alert was generated.

Qantas has not commented on the claim that one TCAS unit was off air. TCAS is designed to prevent air space infringements and in the worst cases, collisions involving aircraft where only one may be fitted with the device.

Reader ‘Magoo’ has provided the Planefinder illustration below. It is true, as he has pointed out, that lateral separation is not always accurate on such displays, however it definitely sets the scene.

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