Pilots ignored air traffic control to avoid collision
A packed Cathay Pacific jet and a Virgin Blue plane were within 19 kilometres of each other over Australia's Northern Territory when their pilots ignored faulty air traffic control instructions and took decisive actions to narrowly avoid a disaster, an official investigation revealed yesterday.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau's inquiry into the incident - involving a Melbourne-bound Airbus A330 carrying 309 passengers, and a Virgin Blue Boeing 737 with 120 passengers on board - singled out an 'inadequately equipped' traffic controller for blame. The report said the controller first put the flights on a collision path and then failed to take corrective measures when the pilots alerted him to the danger.
Recognising the dire situation, the pilots on both planes ignored air traffic control instructions and swerved to their right to avoid a head-on collision. Pilots are allowed to ignore instructions from ground control only when faced with an emergency.
The report noted that the traffic controller was allowed to shorten a mandatory training course because of his previous experience with the Royal Australian Air Force, raising questions about whether such exemptions should have been given to former military servicemen.