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air safety

Mar 2, 2017

SingaporeAir flew too close to mountains near Canberra last month

Singapore Airlines loses track of altitude near Canberra while the ATSB gets lost in its own backyard


An old bushwalking photo of Bimberi Peak, Wikipedia


Had you been atop Bimberi Peak (1912 metres or 6273 feet above mean sea level) on February 22 this year you might just have noticed a  270 or so seater Singapore Airlines 777-200 slicing through the air not far above or to one side of the wind blasted summit on its way to an otherwise uneventful landing at Canberra airport.

The  Boeing should not have been there.  At that point of its descent toward Canberra it should not have been below its designated safe minimum altitude of 7500 feet but it was at about 6600 feet.

Having been apparently advised of this by ‘the tower’ to use a good old fashioned phrase, flight SQ 291 climbed back to 7500 feet for the short period before it had cleared the beautiful but very high and often snowy hills and continued on its descent to its landing at the national capital at the first stop on its journey from Singapore to Wellington, New Zealand.

The ATSB has this week launched an inquiry into the procedural incident, as it calls it on its notification page. If the media had relied at that official notification it would have ignored it, because it contained almost zero relevant information, and what it did publish was wrong and no doubt inadvertently misleading. In fact this totally but no doubt accidentally useless notification did result in no major general media coverage (as of this hour) apart from a good story in Singapore’s Straits Times.

The ATSB said the ‘procedural incident’ occurred 20 kilometres south of the airport when in fact it took place 33.3 kilometres to the southwest.  The difference between distance and direction turns a pretty boring and gently undulating part of the Monaro plains into a cluster of eroded very, very post glacial granite tops that are higher than the tree line in places and are often described geologically as the northernmost peaks and ridge lines of the Snowy Mountains.

Updated March 4:  As pointed out by the comment posted by reader ‘Jukebox’  the ATSB notification begins to look deliberately misleading when the exact coordinates of the 20 kms south reference on its notification page are expanded and placed over a map.

The ATSB has so far declined to respond to questions about how it arrived at that location for the incident.

Compare this with graphic further down page

How do we know the ATSB notification was inadvertently wrong to the point of rendering the procedural incident un-newsworthy?  Because of the Aviation Herald, which nailed it as shown in the graphic below and which overlays the available data on the approach path over a Google Earth map.

Aviation Herald plot of descent path

It’s one thing for an airliner to lose its altitude awareness, and not a very good thing either when it involves big hills, and another for a safety investigator to fail its general knowledge test of terrain which is only a short distance from its own offices in Canberra.

PS. And Yes, we did seek clarification from the ATSB yesterday and No, there was no reply.

PPS. It is unclear how close SQ291 came to Bimberi, or other nearby high peaks, but it came too close, which is what caused the ATSB inquiry.


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