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Prior to departure the aircraft received an airways clearance requiring it to track on the 151 radial from Cairns Visual Omni Range (VOR) beacon and cruise at flight level 210. The pilot accepted this clearance and taxiied the aircraft for takeoff from runway 15. He further requested approval to takeoff from a position 1065 metres along the runway. From this position 1531 metres of runway remained, sufficient for the operation. Before issuing a takeoff clearance to the aircraft, the Cairns Tower Controller instructed the pilot to maintain the aircraft at 2000 feet after becoming airborne. This instruction was to facilitate separation with an Boeing 737 aircraft, inbound on the reciprocal track, that had been instructed to descend to 3000 feet. To enable VH-AWU to be cleared to a higher level it was necessary for the controller to obtain advice from the pilots of both aircraft that they had passed each other. Following the takeoff of VH-AWU no departure report was received from the aircraft. The pilot of VH-AWU stated that because he was unable to break into transmissions between Cairns Tower and various other aircraft operating on the frequency he called Townsville Control on another frequency to obtain a clearance to climb. Townsville Control was unaware of the traffic situation in the Cairns area and was therefore unable to clear the aircraft to climb. At about the same time the pilot of VH-AWU was calling Townsville Control the Cairns Tower controller was calling the Boeing aircraft to ascertain whether that aircraft had passed the outbound VH-AWU. On being told by the pilot of the Boeing that the aircraft had passed the controller attempted to confirm the passing with the pilot of VH-AWU. However, the controller was not able to contact that aircraft, probably because the pilot was communicating with Townsville. The pilot of VH-AWU then contacted Cairns Tower requesting an immediate climb. The Cairns controller asked the pilot had he passed the Boeing, The pilot replied that he required an immediate climb "before I hit a hill". VH-AWU was cleared to climb to Flight Level 210. At the time VH-AWU was cleared to climb to Flight Level 210, the aircraft was near to the boundary of the Cairns Control Zone and about to enter a valley with hills on either side above the level of the aircraft. The visibility was reported to have been 30 kilometres and there is no reason to believe that the pilot would not have been able to successfully steer the aircraft down the valley visually. Several other options were also available to the pilot to maintain his aircraft clear of terrain. It is a function of Air Traffic Control that where an aircraft has planned for flight in controlled airspace, as was the case with VH-AWU, that the clearance issued to the aircraft should be aimed to keep the aircraft in controlled airspace. If it is not possible to issue such a clearance aircraft can be delayed or the pilot asked if he will accept a clearance which will take the aircraft outside controlled airspace. In this case while the intent of the controller was to keep VH-AWU in controlled airspace, the clearance issued was such that, with the expected performance of the aircraft, there was no guarantee of achieving that aim. It is considered probable that other clearances could have been issued to both VH-AWU and the Boeing which would have achieved the required separation and been less restrictive to the operation of VH-AWU.

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General details
Date: 23 September 1986 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 1646  
Location:Cairns Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Queensland Occurrence type: Miscellaneous - Other 
Release date: 12 June 1987 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Fairchild Industries Inc 
Aircraft model: SA226 
Aircraft registration: VH-AWU 
Type of operation: Charter 
Damage to aircraft: Nil 
Departure point:Cairns QLD
Departure time:1642
Destination:Townsville QLD
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Last update 17 March 2016