Is there something wrong, or that can be improved, in the instrument approach procedures pilots follow before landing at Canberra Airport?

The ATSB is pursuing this possibility in the final stages of a delayed inquiry into an operational incident in twilight time involving a Qantas 737-800 from Adelaide in October 2012.

For those, like the writer, who usually like watching the big hills prior to arrival in Canberra, the low resolution graphic (below) chosen to illustrate the ATSB progress is a bit of a worry, which is no doubt why the safety investigator is on the case.

Path followed by Qantas 737 involved in incident: ATSB graphic

The portion on the left, in murky red hatching, is where the the jet was flying below the ‘money’ (actually a minimum permitted altitude of 7000 feet) on its way to ‘honey’ the navigational reference point involved in the instrument approach.

The update on the inquiry indicates that the Qantas flight was not at any point at risk of hitting the big hills, or a well known rock climbing location, but it would have made anyone under it pause any conversation while it passed over.

In fact the pilot flying had detected the error and corrected it in a timely manner.  What this inquiry is about is why a properly trained and experienced crew made the error, and the extent to which the design of the approach and its description might have played a role, and might be ‘improved.’

The transient self-corrected stuff up might have brought the jet to within no less than 1600 feet of the rocks, which is why it isn’t a serious incident. But in different circumstances it could have been a lot less. This is not about how low it went, but ‘why’ it went where it did.

We don’t want any misunderstandings leading to by elections or state funerals do we?

Read the brief update for yourselves and enjoy the illustration.

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