Yet Another Near Miss Over Springfield. Southwest Airlines Jet Has Close Call

The federal investigation will begin in January following a long list of close calls involving airliners. The latest near miss involved a Southwest Airlines passenger jet enroute to Chicago.

An air traffic control trainee issued a descent clearance to the Southwest Airlines aircraft in the direction of, and through another aircraft's level. The trainee had only been on the job for three weeks at the time of the incident.

It was at this point the veteran training officer instructed the Southwest pilots to increase their descent profile to avert the business turbo-prop aircraft.

The TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) on board the Southwest Airliner issued an alert that along with the quick actions of the training officer, avoided any collision.

Although the two aircraft did not collide, the event still resulted in a violation of air traffic control separation standards. The two aircraft coming within a proximity 3.1 miles laterally and 300ft vertically at the closest point with a high rate of closure. Almost two mile less than the minimum standard laterally and less than a third of the vertical standard.

It is reported that it could have been a true "T-Bone" incident with the two aircraft being on crossing tracks. The incident occurred at about 9:30 a.m. local on Wednesday approximately 15 miles north of Springfield.

This is believed to be the second serious incident in only three days at the Chicago facility. The sixth in 11 weeks involving aircraft flying dangerously close to each other... My Life And Air Traffic Control does apologise to it's readers for missing the scoop on the previous incidents. This however, is not the first time the Chicago facility has made My Life And Air Traffic Control's honour roll of serious incidents. We last reported a near miss between a Midwest Ailines jet and a United Express aircraft back in November.

My Life And Air Traffic Control is slightly amused by the FAA's comments stating that "The pilots could always see each other. This was not a near-miss,".

At least they are consistent. This comment is almost identical to that made by FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory on the near miss last month.

So how deep does this rabbit hole go? How close do they have to get before the FAA will admit to a near miss?

Data Error Causes Near Miss South-West Of Sydney

ATSB reports have concluded that a data error resulted in the near miss of a Boeing 737-8FE and and Airbus A330-342X south-west of Sydney on April 4.

The Boeing 737 was on descent to Sydney from Melbourne when the Airbus A330, departing for Hong Kong came within 1.9 nautical mile laterally and 600 feet vertically. 1.1 nautical miles and 400 feet short of the minimum separation standard.

The incident occurred only minutes after the controller came on duty. The report found that the controller was "distracted" while adjusting personal setting on the TAAATS display and an incorrect CFL (Cleared Flight Level) was assigned to the B737. According to the report "That assigned level was being used for separation by another air traffic controller."

The error was discovered prior to a conflict alert on the console being activated and the controller took action to avert any possible collision.

Bad weather had caused a complicated situation at the time, with forced changes in flight paths. This may have also contributed to the resulted break down in separation.

Media reports indicate that "adjusting personal settings on the ASD was not a part of official handover procedures". Implying that the distraction was a result of the controller acting irresponsibly.

In the controllers defence My Life And Air Traffic Control would like to point out to it's readers that "The investigation concluded that this data entry error occurred within two minutes of the air traffic controller assuming responsibility for the control position". Any Air Traffic Controllers reading will agree that responsibility is assumed on completion of the handover and not only that, the distraction caused by not adjusting personal settings on the console far outweighs that caused by doing so.

The handover and the distraction in this case are completely unrelated and this is purely a ploy to sell headlines.

FAA In Gross Violation Of Federal Air Regulations Forcing Controller To Work Over 13 Hours

The NATCA reports this week that an Air Traffic Controller at Syracuse Tower was forced to work 13 hours and 40 minutes in a single shift. An event that is in gross violation of federal air regulations and the FAA's own internal order governing safe working limits. The shift commencing at 2:20 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m.

The shift occurred on December 4 when a controller that was scheduled to work the midnight shift called in sick due to a broken ankle. Due to short staffing, no one was available for overtime and the decision was made by the tower's FAA manager to extend a controller from the afternoon shift until 4 a.m.

This situation is a perfect example of controller fatigue, which is an ongoing issue with the FAA. So much so it has made international headlines. My Life And Air Traffic Control reported only last week on an article from The Age about US investigators warning of a runway crash.

NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello said "This is a prime example of how staffing is really hurting us physically," and that "This decision was absolutely ridiculous and extremely unsafe."

And I'm sure no one will disagree with him. My Life And Air Traffic Control contacted the FAA to ask their feelings on the issue. At the time of publishing no comment had been received.

Syracuse Tower will lose another four veteran controllers in January due to retirement, leaving a grand total of 16 fully trained and certified controllers on the roster. This number representing just one-half of the qualified air traffic controllers it had just a few years ago.

Waterbombing Aircraft Crashes Into Lake In The Hunter Valley Killing Pilot

A waterbombing aircraft has plunged into a lake in the Hunter Valley today killing the pilot, now identified at 75 year old Col Pay. A man well known within the aviation industry with over 50 years flight experience.

Although the report below states that no one was able to comment on what work Mr Pay was carrying out at the time, My Life And Air Traffic Control resources confirm the aircraft was conducting practice manoeuvres in an Air Tractor 802, scooping water in preparation for the fast approaching bush fire season.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

"An agricultural pilot with more than 50 years experience is feared dead after a light aircraft crashed into a lake in the NSW Hunter region.

Without naming the pilot, police said a man aged in his seventies was missing after the plane went down at Lake Liddell, north-west of Singleton, at 9.40am (AEDT).

Scone Aero Club president Neville Partridge said the pilot of the plane was Col Pay, a water bomber pilot and crop-duster from Scone.

He had more than half a century of flying experience, Mr Partridge said.

"Without doubt, he was one of the most experienced pilots," he told AAP.

"He was flying an agricultural-type plane when it happened."

Police divers will undertake a search of the lake.

There was initial confusion over how many people were on board the plane when it crashed, with ambulance services saying earlier that two passengers had survived and managed to swim ashore.

However a spokeswoman for Pay's Air Service later said Mr Pay was the only person in the plane at the time of the crash.

She was unable to say what work Mr Pay was carrying out at the time.

An Air Services Australia (ASA) spokeswoman said the plane, a fire-bomber Air Tractor model AT 8T usually used for water bombing, was licensed to carry two people.

Pay's Air Service carries out fire spotting and bushfire water bombing operations out of Scone and Moree, according to the company website.

Chief executive of the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia, Phil Hurst, said he understood the aircraft involved in the crash was a two-seater, but he was unsure how many people were aboard."

There is no doubt the death of Col Pay is a tragic loss to the aviation industry.

FAA Makes International Headlines - US Investigators Warn Of Runway Crash

The ongoing dramas with the FAA and it's tired Air Traffic Controllers has reached international headlines with an Australian article from The Age about US investigators warning of an accident waiting to happen.

Here's what The Age article on runway incursions had to say:

"There is "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision occurring in the United States" because of faltering federal leadership, malfunctioning technology and overworked air traffic controllers, congressional investigators concluded.

The investigators gave the Federal Aviation Administration credit for reducing runway safety incidents from a peak in 2001 but said "FAA's runway safety efforts subsequently waned" as the number of incidents settled at a lower level.

Then in fiscal year to September 30 2007, the incidents spiked to 370, or 6.05 runway incursions per one million air traffic control operations, almost returning to 2001's 407 incursions and 6.1 rate.

An incursion is any aircraft, vehicle or person that goes where it shouldn't be in space reserved for take-off or landing.

At this time, "no single office is taking charge of assessing the causes of runway safety problems and taking the steps needed to address those problems," the Government Accountability Office, the US Congress' investigative arm, said in the report.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters stepped into that leadership void in August by calling an industry-wide brainstorming conference to produce ideas for quick action.

In October, the FAA reported progress on steps recommended by the August conclave, particularly in speeding improved runway markings and pilot training.

The GAO report approved of those moves but also recommended more leadership from the FAA, improved data collection and a reduction in overtime required of air traffic controllers.
Even though serious incursions, where a collision was narrowly averted, declined to a record low 24 in 2007 from 31 the year before, the report said they have remained high enough since the FAA took its eye off the ball to represent a high risk of catastrophe.

Since 1990, 63 people have died in six US runway collisions. And the FAA's previous definition did not classify some serious runway errors as incursions, including an August 27, 2006, crash in Lexington, Kentucky, of a Comair jet that took off from a too-short runway, killing 49.

This year has seen some dramatic near-misses:

* On August 16, two commercial jets carrying 296 people came within 11 metres of colliding at Los Angeles International.

* A Delta Boeing 757 touched down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on July 11 and had to take off immediately to avoid hitting a United Airbus A320 mistakenly on its runway.

* A Delta Boeing 737 landing at New York's LaGuardia airport on July 5 narrowly missed a commuter jet mistakenly cleared to cross its runway.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating those, two others in Denver and one in San Francisco.

The GAO seconded the transportation safety board's April recommendation that the FAA reduce mandatory overtime for controllers.

Since the FAA imposed a contract on the controllers union in 2006, experienced controllers have retired much faster than the agency predicted.

The FAA also cut controller staff to respond to traffic pattern changes from airline mergers and bankruptcies. The union says the cuts are too deep and reduce safety; the FAA says US air travel has never been safer.

The GAO said 52 per cent of controllers at the busiest US airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, regularly work six-day weeks.

Overall, between 20 per cent and 52 per cent of controllers at 25 FAA facilities, including seven of the 50 busiest towers, are on such weeks.

Nevertheless, "agency officials indicated that they had no plan to mitigate the effects of air traffic controller fatigue," the GAO said.

The GAO found that radar the FAA installed at 34 of the busiest airports to monitor aircraft on the ground does not work well when needed most - during heavy rain or snow.

FAA's more advanced ground-control radar, operational at only eight airports, issues false alerts of impending collisions - 41 from June 7, 2006, to May 16, 2007, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

FAA's Office of Runway Safety has not produced a national runway safety plan since 2002, went two years without a permanent director and had a 45 per cent staff cut over the past four years, the GAO found."

So as you can see, the message is getting through to the rest of the world. But is the FAA listening?

Mid-Air Collision Over Gippsland Kills Pilot

A mid-air collision over Gippsland, Victoria has resulted in the aircraft bursting into flames killing the 65 year old pilot.

The aircraft, believed to be an ultralight crashed at a country airfield in Morwell just after 11am today. Country Fire Authority spokesman George Ellis said the aircraft was destroyed in the crash at the Latrobe Valley airfield as the aircraft came down, bursting into flames on impact.

Local Police said it appeared the cause of the crash was a mid-air collision between the ultralight plane and another light aircraft. The two aircraft colliding when attempting to land at the regional aerodrome

The light Cessna aircraft involved in the collision managed to land safely at the aerodrome, the 15 year old student pilot amazingly uninjured.

It is reported no one could get close to the downed aircraft in an attempt to save the pilot.

ATSB is currently making it's way to the scene for investigations. The Civil Aviation Authority (CASA) has also been notified although they will not be involved in the investigation as no passenger aircraft were involved.