The big hills near Canberra Airport which is in the middle distance

There is more terrain to think about on approaches to Canberra Airport than at most of the nation’s airline gateways, and as the newest to take wide-body international flights, the arrival of a Singapore Airlines 777-200 with 248 people on board on February 22 this year did so while twice at an unsafe altitude for parts of its descent in visual conditions toward Australia’s capital city.

Using its new fondness for gentle but precise language, the ATSB has nailed a series of mistakes made by the crew of the jet as the passed by some very big hills to the south and southwest of the airport before the pilots could see the runway.

In plain English, the crew at first flew 500 feet below a section of the approach with a safe minimum altitude of 7500 feet, and after correcting that error by climbing back to 7500 feet on the advice of tower control, they then descended the jet to 4600 feet above sea level at a closer in part of the approach profile where they should have maintained 5300 feet.

Canberra Airport is 1886 feet or 575 metres above mean sea level. The aircraft was cleared to continue to a safe landing from that lower than required level.

The ATSB report deals with the state of Canberra Airport at the time, with one navigational aid unavailable, and with the changes underway in near airport navigational procedures at Australian airports which are best left to technical forums.

The report also summaries the responses of Singapore Airlines, starting with its briefing the crew to expect an approach procedure which turned out not be be available when its flight was drawing close to the very high hills near Canberra.

This is the sort of report that might best be read by interested lay air travelers over a nice rich pudding accompanied by a desert wine.

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