air safety

Feb 7, 2017

Air Traffic vigilance prevents Tigerair stuff up at Cairns

One way to keep FNQ lovely and tidy is for airlines to ensure their flights have ALL of Cairns' runway available for take-off

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Another beautiful day at Cairns Airport and its ‘adequate’ runway

But for the timely intervention of an AirServices Australia officer in the tower at Cairns airport on January 21, a Tigerair Australia A320 bound for Brisbane would have attempted to take off from the wrong starting point on its 2580 metres long runway.

The flight would, according to pilots, most likely have taken off using only 2100 metres of the runway, provided nothing went wrong, such as an engine failure, or perhaps the mistaken use of less powerful but more economical thrust settings, it which case things could have gone badly wrong for everyone in the 180 seat jet.

Those are the thoughts of airline professionals who hold positions demanding complete attention to the requirements of safe airline operations, and who are aware of the pressure for quick turnarounds or punctuality.

The notification of the incident as worthy of investigation by the ATSB can be read here on its website, or a better illustrated report, and a short discussion of the incident, can be found on the Aviation Herald website, which is an invaluable free resource for those interested in no nonsense air safety reporting and which asks for a donation toward its running costs.

The ATSB expects to report its findings by May, a very short turnaround for a vital agency that is also under resourced.

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11 thoughts on “Air Traffic vigilance prevents Tigerair stuff up at Cairns

  1. comet

    Imagine if it was Jetstar, and they had incorrect passenger load numbers.

  2. Cut Snake

    Just one more of many reasons to never fly tigerair – povo prices and povo safety are an inescapable outcome.

  3. Rais

    Ben, following your link to the Aviation Herald I noticed that Qantas diverted a Melbourne bound A380 to Singapore on the 6th of February with an engine shutdown. I don’t seem to have seen anything about it in the media. It was handled well and nobody was in danger but it surprised me that the media hadn’t picked it up after at least 24 hours.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      I think the reason is in your answer. Qantas knew where it was, and it took prudent steps to deal with a routine issue. Tiger didn’t know where it was, not even on the ground in an airport, and was totally clueless until the tower intervened.

      1. Giant Bird

        Hi Ben,
        On the issue of Qantas and A380 reliability. On this blog there has been a number of comments on the poor reliability of the Qantas A380 fleet particularly compared to Emirates. If Qantas cannot keep their A380’s reliable why would they open a USA A380 facility and expect other airlines to send their A380’s to them for maintenance. Or are the 300 people in LA just to make sure that they can get their own A380’s back to Sydney?
        Also at the time of the QF32 Singapore engine failure I thought that Qantas said their A380’s were maintained in the Philippines at a facility jointly owned by Lufthansa and RR, or did I misunderstand this.
        With Qantas seemingly wanting to outsource much of their maintenance the whole issue of building a new facility in LA does not seem to make sense to me. Have Qantas changed their philosophy or am I missing something here?

        1. Ben Sandilands

          Giant Bird,
          Until proven otherwise, I’m prepared to believe their position that it is all about ‘efficient’ scheduling. The most unavoidable down time for Qantas aircraft is we are told when they turnaround in the US. That guidance says that if maintenance done there was done here, the utilisation of any aircraft scheduled for trans Pacific non-stops would fall by the time parked doing nothing in LAX.

          I haven’t seen any contrary analysis on this so far, but it does fit in with persistent unofficial advice that Qantas sees a much larger role (!) for the existing A380s in Hong Kong and possibly Japan using the capacity they now provide in full or part to Dubai and on to London.

          This makes sense, in that demand on the Hong Kong routes is growing at rates that simply can’t be fitted in to the slots available at either end of those routes. Cathay Pacific faces a similar bind. Even if all of its frequencies are flown by the larger of the A350s, the -1000, by 2020, it will leave behind hundreds of passengers per scheduling opportunity. Qantas sees this, I believe, as a fundamental weakness for CX, and I’m guessing that if this unofficial narrative comes true, it will do what Emirates is now doing on some A380 routes and reconfigure some if not all of those jets to more than 600 passengers, using the same sized economy seats as now (which will be bigger than CX’s plans to stuff people into much smaller seats), a modest sized premium economy cabin, new business class seats, and no first class. If Qantas rotates its A380s through LAX but has its focus for the big jet on Asian routes, it all comes together and makes sense.

        2. patrick kilby

          Giant Bird the work in LA will be A and B checks the ones that take a day or two. The Philippines are for the much longer C checks ( a month or so) and maybe the upcoming D checks with a cabin refurbish.

  4. Dan Dair

    From the flight crew point of view, this is a very poor showing & if they use minimal thrust settings from the wrong runway entry point, potentially life-threatening.
    However, that is in many respects, exactly what tower / ground-control is there for.!

    We (and Tiger) should be really, really grateful that the airfield concerned actually had an operational tower to tell the crew they’d made that mistake.
    Had it been a unified-control area, the outcome might have been disastrously bad instead of just unfortunate.?

  5. comet

    One way to keep FNQ lovely and tidy is for airlines to not leave their broken aluminium and kerosene strewn all over the runway.

    Singapore Airlines showed how to make a mess of a runway in Taipei, when the pilots of flight 006 (a 747-400) lost situational awareness on the ground and tried to take off on a closed runway, ploughing into machinery, vehicles and baracades.

    Or there’s Delta Connection Flight 5191, taxiing out at Blue Grass Airport near Lexington, Kentucky. The pilots lost situational awareness on the ground and accelerated down runway 26 instead of 22, smashing through the airport perimeter fence and into trees before bursting into flames. All passengers were killed and incinerated in the fireball. The sole air traffic controller didn’t see the accident happen, as he had turned away to perform administrative duties.

  6. comet

    The irony is that when I ride my pushbike near the airport, I’ve got a screen on the handlebars with a map and GPS of my location to within a metre or so. I know exactly where I am.

    In fact, someone on the other side of the world can dial up a flight radar app on their phone and see the location of TigerAir flight TT-491 as it lines up on the wrong taxiway.

    Yet the pilots aboard the aircraft had no idea where they were. How is that possible?

    I assumed they would have adjusted their engine thrust to what is required of the runway length they thought they had. I assume their V1 point of no return would have been erroneous. Are those pilots still flying with TigerAir, or have they been suspended pending the inquiry.

    We can only be grateful the economic rationalists had not reduced air traffic control staff, or made them ‘ increase efficiency’ by doing administrative duties instead of watching the aircraft moving onto the taxiways.

    1. Creeper

      The A320 does not have the ground map Nav display however larger Airbus do. I don’t think it’s relevant as these sort of incidents rarely happen.

      777 has the ground map but that didn’t help those Qatar pilots who took the wrong taxiway in Miami.

      Tiger Brisbane based pilots frequent Cairns weekly at a minimum and this taxiway isn’t used for any large jet departure so I’ll still dumbfounded neither pilots picked it up.

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