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Jets' near-miss prompts rule rethink

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Jets' near-miss prompts rule rethink

Old 03-24-2005, 08:10 PM
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Default Jets' near-miss prompts rule rethink


Air New Zealand is considering new rules to help avoid a repeat of a near disaster over Indonesia last year when one of its jets and a Qantas plane almost collided.

The move comes months after Qantas, understood to be concerned about the quality of Indonesian air traffic control, ordered its pilots to fly to the right of the normal track for flights through Indonesian airspace after the near head-on collision in March and another similar incident involving two Qantas planes in the same area in June.

The new rule means Qantas planes have horizontal as well as vertical flight path separation in Indonesian air space.

Air New Zealand chief pilot David Morgan said the airline was now considering a similar policy for all its routes as part of an expected international trend.

In the March 22 incident, the Air New Zealand and Qantas Boeing 767-300 jets carrying 268 passengers and crew between them passed within 122 metres of each other off the coast of Irian Jaya west of Papua New Guinea. The two planes were put on a collision course by an Indonesian controller when the Qantas jet flying from Hong Kong to Sydney was cleared to climb from 35,000 feet to 37,000 feet.

The Air New Zealand jet, flying from Auckland to Hong Kong, was cruising at 36,000 feet. The jets were at a closing speed of about 1700 kilometres an hour. The planes missed each other only because their onboard computers warned the pilots to take evasive action, according to a report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau just made public.

As the Qantas plane approached 36,000 feet its collision avoidance computer warned the pilots of an impending danger and instructed them to descend immediately. A similar warning on the Air New Zealand jet told its pilots to climb. The Qantas pilots glimpsed the Air New Zealand plane fly over them.

An Air New Zealand 767 pilot said the evasive action would probably have been unnoticed by passengers who would have experienced a sensation similar to an express elevator in a high-rise building.

However, the incident frightened one of the Qantas pilots to the point that he reportedly called his wife immediately after landing to tell her he nearly been killed.

Aircraft on long-distance international flights and out of radar range rely on maintaining a set altitude to ensure vertical separation from oncoming traffic.

Qantas was so concerned about the two Indonesian incidents involving its aircraft that it has ordered its pilots to fly to the right of the normal route to minimise the risk of head-on collisions.

Qantas pilots were also no longer allowed to request or accept an altitude change while crossing the Ujung Pandang Flight Information Region.

But Mr Morgan said though the incident was serious, Air New Zealand had not made immediate procedural changes because it was considered an isolated event.

"We have seen a significant improvement in air traffic control capability in the Indonesian airspace over the last five or six years."

Airline Pilots Association technical director Hugh Faris said pilots always treated Indonesia "with a degree of caution" but were not concerned about the quality of the air traffic control service.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has handed the investigation over to Indonesian authorities because it happened in their air space.

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Old 03-25-2005, 01:22 AM
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I marvel that more stories like this don't surface. Those who fly up and down A1 (southern Japan to Manila and beyond) know what I'm talking about. With GPS nav, the airplanes are ON centerline of the airway. The only way to protect yourself against an ATC error in the era of RVSM airspace is to fly an offset.

- Paul
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