Regional airline Rex (Regional Express) has banned its pilots from relying on their sight to find their way to Newcastle Airport, after the crew of a passenger flight from Sydney mistook Kooragang Island’s coal loaders and stockpiles for the runway 11 kilometres away.
Air traffic controllers were forced to intervene and direct the plane back on course, according to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report issued on Friday.
Regional Express pilots have been reminded to use navigation equipment to verify their position and have been banned from making visual approaches to the airport, following the incident on November 8, 2012.
The Bureau found the captain ‘‘misidentified’’ the Kooragang coal loaders and coal storage piles 11 kilometres south-west of Williamtown Airport, in the low evening light.
About 7.30pm, Williamtown air traffic control gave the plane’s crew clearance to approach the airport and advised they make contact when 19 kilometres away. Two passengers were on board.
The plane was then shown on radar to turn left after passing Nobbys Head and track along the Hunter River while descending.
The captain reported seeing buildings, believing them to be part of the airport.
The tower controller, using binoculars, saw the plane manoeuvring at a ‘‘greater distance than usual from the runway’’. Asked if they were ‘‘still visual’’, the crew said they had ‘‘lost’’ the runway and were turning right. The captain then took over the controls from the first officer.
Neither could see the runway but reported they had ‘‘formed a strong belief’’ they were near the airport.
However, the first officer told investigators he then noticed the aircraft was not in the right place, having ‘‘observed the lighting and width of the coal loading and storage facility’’, but did not tell the captain. Perhaps they need to educated in the benefits of CRM (command/crew resource management)! Air traffic controllers realised the crew did not know where they were and told them they were not at the airport. Radar was used to redirect them.
The plane landed about 7.35pm, and the crew told the air traffic controller they were unfamiliar with locating the airport at night.
The report said an opportunity was missed for the first officer to tell the captain they were in the wrong place. Air traffic controllers could have said ‘‘safety alert – low altitude warning’’ and told the crew to climb to 2100 feet, it said.
Rex had proactively issued advice to all of its crew after the incident, it concluded.
Source: Newcastle Herald 14/03/2015 (including picture)