Airprox in Melbourne

Safety Bureau finds no near miss at Melbourne Airport


AM - Friday, 19 December , 2003  08:04:20

Reporter: Ben Knight

DAVID HARDAKER: The politics of domestic aviation is once again in the air this morning. The air traffic controllers union is being accused of scare-mongering, after a Transport Safety Bureau investigation found there was no near miss near Melbourne Airport two weeks ago.

At the time, the Air Traffic Controllers Association claimed a Virgin passenger jet and a smaller Cessna had come within 20 seconds of colliding - a direct result of the Government's new airspace system, it was claimed.

But the Bureau's report says that while the aircraft were close, there was no threat to their safety at any time.

Ben Knight reports.

BEN KNIGHT: On December the 4th, a Virgin Blue 737 was flying into Melbourne from the Gold Coast when its collision avoidance system alerted the crew to a smaller aircraft in its airspace.

The Virgin jet slowed its descent, the pilots kept their eyes on the Cessna, and both aircraft landed safely.

According to the air traffic controllers union, Civil Air, it was a near miss, and the planes had come within 20 seconds of colliding.

President Ted Lang said it was more proof that the Federal Government's new airspace system should be scrapped.

TED LANG: What is it going to take for people to understand that what we've introduced here simply doesn't work in this country. It is not a safe operating environment for our travelling public.

BEN KNIGHT: It could have come at a worse time for the Minister, John Anderson. The new airspace system had only been operating for a week, and was already under intense pressure from pilots and air traffic controllers.

But an investigation into this alleged incident by the Transport Safety Bureau has found that there was no threat to the safety of either aircraft.

The Cessna did come close to the 737. At one point, there was as little as 400 feet of vertical space between them, while they were less than two nautical miles apart. But both planes had been flying under the instructions of air traffic control long before that.

Alan Stray, the Deputy Director of the Transport Safety Bureau, says even though the planes came close to each other in the air, there's been no breach of the rules.

ALAN STRAY: In that airspace, there's no proscribed separation standard applicable, therefore there was no infringement of separation standards and there was not the technical term of an airprox (air proximity).

BEN KNIGHT: Can I take that to mean that because there is no standard, they could have come, technically, within inches of each other and there would still be no breach?

ALAN STRAY: Well technically, there is no separation standard applicable.

BEN KNIGHT: But Ted Lang says it's the lack of rules unde the new system that has caused the problem.

TED LANG: If an aircraft can operate, commercial aircraft can operate within 300 feet and two nautical miles of another aircraft and call that safe, it simply is insanity.

BEN KNIGHT: A spokesman for John Anderson says the union and the Opposition have been scare-mongering, and has called for an apology, but Ted Lang has in turn called on the Minister to again listen to the union's concerns.

TED LANG: Unfortunately, we've never been given the opportunity to see the Minister. We've offered an alternative solution, and we think the alternative solution has some merit and for him to ignore it again is simply unsatisfactory.

DAVID HARDAKER: Ted Lang, the President of Civil Air, the air traffic controllers union, ending that report from Ben Knight.

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