Air traffic control: surge in near misses

The British air traffic control operators have confirmed that in recent months, the number of near misses has risen steeply, while an experienced pilot tells Pravda.Ru that the new EU measures on aircraft distance is unsafe.

One week after the tragic accident which saw the death of 71 people in a collision between a Russian Tupolev 154 and a DHL Boeing 747, the EU decision to halve the minimum distance between aircraft flying over 29,000 feet has been criticised. A former British Airways pilot, now retired, with experience in BOAC, BA, the RAF and private airlines in the Gulf, declared on Thursday in an interview with Pravda.Ru that the 1,000 foot distance, which replaced the minimum 2,000 foot safety buffer six months ago, is unsafe.

“At certain altitudes and in certain conditions, such as, for example, over the Alps, there are upward and downward movements of air which can very easily move an aircraft 500 feet in either direction. It is therefore not very difficult for one aircraft to be pulled downwards 500 feet and another upwards, also 500 feet, creating a serious danger of a collision”, said the expert.

He added that “these cycles go in spirals, so an aircraft can easily move out of one, say, a downwards pull and into an upward-pulling cycle from one moment to the next. One thousand feet seems a great distance but up there, believe me, it is not enough in certain conditions. What happened to that Tupolev could very well be a forerunner of many disasters to come”.

In the first six months of 2002, British air traffic controllers registered no less than five near misses, four of which happened in the first week of June, according to a source working in National Air Traffic Services, quoted by Computer Weekly.

On top of this, forty-four overload reports were issued by British air traffic control workers during the same period of time (January to June 2002), these reports being issued when an employee working in air traffic control considers that his or her workload has reached the saturation point which endangers the proper safety conditions the worker has been employed to respect.

This means an increase of more than one hundred percent in such reports over the same period last year, in which only twenty overload reports were filed.