civil aviation

Pilot and air traffic controller errors behind Shenzhen Airlines near crash at Hong Kong’s Big Buddha statue, experts say

Transcript reportedly shows pilot responded to radio command meant for other plane, but controller failed to resolve confusion

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 11:23pm

Pilot and air traffic controller errors contributed to a near crash involving a Shenzhen Airlines aircraft’s aborted landing last weekend, an analysis of the audio communications shows.

Following the incident, airline officials were ordered to appear in front of Hong Kong’s aviation authority and give their version of events about the “missed approach” of flight ZH9041 from Jinjiang, Fujian province, which sent the plane on a course close to the Big Buddha statue and Lantau Peak.

The aircraft landed safely after 20 minutes, and no one was injured.

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Based on a transcript sourced from an audio streaming site that provides a live feed of air traffic control communications around the world, LiveATC.net, the confusion was apparently triggered by an air traffic controller (ATC) contacting a nearby Saudia aircraft, which was also on a final approach, after the message was intercepted by the Shenzhen Airlines pilots.

Experts told the Post the mainland carrier’s pilots made the first mistake by responding to the radio command for Saudia. However the controller also made an error in not resolving the confusion, which forced the plane to head in an unsafe direction.

A former Civil Aviation Department ATC trainer said of the transcript and audio: “The Shenzhen pilot thinks it is his call, and the plane turns the wrong direction – we call that a call sign confusion. That is where the troublesome bit starts.”

Jeremy Tam Man-ho, an airline pilot and Civic Party member, said: “The ATC has the duty to pick up on any mistake and any incorrect readback by the pilot.”

He added: “The pilot also has the duty has to ensure the instructions by the ATC are safe and correct. He should be aware where the terrain is – particularly since that day was a clear day, and he should have seen the hill right in front of him.

“It doesn’t matter what the ATC just told him. What he should have done was query ATC.”

The ATC expert pointed to faults in Shenzhen Airlines’ standard operating procedures and training. He also said the controller would likely be put back into a simulator for more training.

Flightpath according to Flightradar24.com

Campaigners against airport expansion and the third runway said the incident raised safety questions.

The Civil Aviation Department confirmed that during the missed approach, the plane did not follow the standard missed approach track, but air traffic control instructed and guided the flight back to the right track, a department spokesman said.

The department requested that the airline send representatives to the city to throw some light on the incident. The airline was also asked to submit a detailed report.

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The department said the incident did not pose a threat to public safety, and there was no risk of collision between the Shenzhen Airlines aircraft and other aircraft or buildings, including the Giant Buddha on Lantau.

Tam called for the CAD to release the full audio and transcript.

The pilot said it was possible that both pilots radioed ATC at the same time, the one from Saudia fractionally faster, so the controller heard Saudia but not the incorrect readback from ZH9041, which can be heard on the audio.