Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Terror in Northern Ireland skies - how Airbus came within 200ft of helicopter and other near misses

MICRO-LIGHT pilot nearly collided with a DHC-8' .... 'Diverted student pilot never saw Boeing 737' ... 'Cessna plane 20ft below glider'

Airbus A319 and helicopter had near miss over Belfast International airport
Airbus A319 and helicopter had near miss over Belfast International airport

ALL three of Northern Ireland's main airports have been involved in frightening airplane near misses over the past two years, it has emerged.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has confirmed that in total there have been four so-called 'Airprox' incidents -- three of which involved passenger planes -- since January 2011.

They happened near the three main airports -- George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast International and City of Derry --while a fourth incident occurred near Newtownards Airfield.

Retired senior air traffic controller Ray Burrows, who has more than 30 years experience, told the Belfast Telegraph that there were few near misses given the volume of air traffic.

"Contollers and pilots are human and they do make mistakes but the fact is that there are literally tens of thousands of air movements on a daily basis and it's only occasionally that something goes amiss, which speaks very highly of the system itself," said Mr Burrows.

"Contollers are professionally trained and so are pilots.

"They go through rigorous training and rigorous refresher training. But every so often there could be a misunderstanding between the pilot and the controller.

"Someone may have thought that they heard something and it wasn't exactly what they heard and as a result of that two aircraft come a little bit closer than they should."

Meanwhile, a private pilot, who asked not to be named, said there were "degrees of air misses".

"People might be surprised to know that this sort of thing does happen all the time," he added.

On June 6, 2011, there was a near miss in the skies close to Belfast City Airport involving a DHC-8 twin propeller plane, which can carry up to 70 passengers, and a micro-light.

The pilot of the DHC-8 spotted the small aircraft as he made his approach to land.

He informed air traffic control but did not have to take any evasive action.

Another incident happened on July 27 last year near Derry City Airport.

It involved a Boeing 737, which can seat up to 180 people, and a small Cessna plane being flown by a student pilot.

The student pilot had left Saint Angelo Airport in Enniskillen and headed north to Londonderry --but due to bad weather he then diverted to Aldergrove.

Both aircraft were flying at around 2,000ft and were within about 100ft of each other. The student pilot did not see the Boeing 737.

There was a near miss at Belfast International Airport on October 27, 2011, between an Airbus A319, which seats about 140 people, and a helicopter.

The plane was taking off when the pilot saw the chopper moving into the aircraft's path.

Once airborne, the Airbus pilot turned to the right -- at one stage the two aircraft were just 200ft apart -- and the pilot assessed the risk as high.

Meanwhile, the most serious airprox incident happened on July 30, 2011 near Newtownards Airfield involving a small plane called a Vigilant Motor Glider and a slightly bigger Cessna plane.

As both planes were preparing to land the Cessna was just 20ft below and 10ft behind the Vigilant. The Vigilant went on a go-around, meaning the pilot circled again before landing.

Both planes landed safely but the Vigilant pilot assessed the risk as high and said he was confident that a collision could have happened.

The findings, with a risk rating graded from A (highest) to E, are in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the BBC.

FACTFILE: WHEN SAFETY IS COMPROMISED

'Aircraft proximity hazard' (Airprox) is the industry term for what is commonly referred to as a 'near miss'. The UK Airprox Board is an independent organisation sponsored jointly by the CAA and the Ministry of Defence to deal with all Airprox events reported within UK airspace. Its primary objective is to enhance flight safety in the UK in respect of lessons to be learned and applied from Airprox occurrences reported within UK airspace. An Airprox is a situation in which the distance between aircraft as well as their relative positions and speed have been such that the safety of the aircraft involved was or may have been compromised.

'

Northern Ireland Aviation incidents in full

MICRO-LIGHT pilot nearly collided with a DHC-8'

DATELINE: Monday June 6, 2011. 10.46am.

LOCATION: Near Belfast City Airport.

The near miss involved a DHC-8 twin-propeller plane, which can carry up to 70 passengers, and a micro-light. The pilot of the DHC-8 spotted the small aircraft as he made his approach to land. He informed air traffic control but did not have to take any evasive action.

Assessment of cause and risk: Micro-light pilot didn't follow the amended clearance and flew into conflict with the DHC-8 on the final approach.

Degree of risk: C

'Diverted student pilot never saw Boeing 737'

DATELINE: Friday July 27, 2012. 1.38pm.

LOCATION: Near Derry City Airport.

Another incident involving a Boeing 737, which can seat up to 180 people, and a small Cessna plane being flown by a student pilot.

The student pilot had left Saint Angelo Airport in Enniskillen and headed north to Londonderry -- due to bad weather he then diverted to Aldergrove.

Both planes were flying around 2,000ft and were within about 100ft of each other. The student pilot never saw the Boeing 737.

Assessment of cause and risk: Controller perceived conflict.

Degree of risk: E

'At one point Airbus A319 was just 200ft away from helicopter'

DATELINE: Thursday October 27, 2011. 6.31pm.

LOCATION: The incident happened at Belfast International Airport.

It involved an Airbus A319, which seats about 140 people, taking off for a flight. The plane was taking off when the pilot saw a helicopter moving into the aircraft's path. Once airborne, the Airbus pilot turned to the right -- at one stage the two aircraft were just 200ft apart. The pilot assessed the risk as high.

Assessment of cause and risk: In the absence of TI (technical instructions), the A319 crew was concerned by the proximity of the EC135.

Degree of risk: C

'Cessna plane 20ft below glider'

DATELINE: Saturday July 30, 2011.3.45pm.

LOCATION: The closest near-miss was near Newtownards Airfield

It involved a small plane called a Vigilant Motor Glider and a slightly bigger Cessna plane. As both planes were preparing to land the Cessna was just 20ft below and 10ft behind the Vigilant. The Vigilant went on a go-around, meaning the pilot circled again before landing. Both planes landed safely but the Vigilant pilot was confident a collision could have happened. He assessed the risk as high.

Assessment of cause and risk: The C172 pilot flew into conflict with the Vigilant on final approach.

Degree of risk: A

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