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On 13 October 2005, at 0618 Eastern Standard Time, a Saab Aircraft AB 340B (Saab), registered VH-UYA, departing Townsville Airport, Queensland, came within the minimum separation standard of 1,000 ft vertically and of 3 NM horizontally of an inbound Cessna Aircraft Company 310R (Cessna), registered VH-TFP. There was an infringement of air traffic control separation standards.

The pilots of the Saab were instructed by air traffic control to depart Townsville on a heading of 350 degrees magnetic, to ensure a lateral separation standard existed between the Saab and the arriving Cessna. However, on departure the pilots of the Saab continued their left turn through the assigned heading, before turning their aircraft back to a heading of 350 degrees. The approach controller provided traffic information to the pilot of the Cessna and when the pilot reported that he had not sighted the Saab, the approach controller instructed him to make a left orbit. The Saab passed almost overhead the Cessna with about 500 ft vertical separation between them.

Despite a correct readback to the controller and recording the assigned heading on the take off and landing data card, the Saab copilot forgot about the heading instruction as he commenced the turn after takeoff. The pilot in command, as the pilot not flying, intended to monitor the conduct of the flight but was busy adjusting the power levers and did not immediately realise that the aircraft's heading had diverged from the assigned heading.

Following the occurrence the operator of the Saab issued two standing orders.

 

Sequence of events

On 13 October 2005 at 0618 Eastern Standard Time, a Saab Aircraft AB 340B (Saab), registered VH-UYA, departing Townsville Airport, Qld, came within the minimum separation standard of 1,000 ft vertically and of 3 NM horizontally of an inbound Cessna Aircraft Company 310R (Cessna), registered VH-TFP. There was an infringement of air traffic control separation standards.

The crew of the Saab was operating a scheduled passenger flight to Trepell, in central Queensland, in accordance with the instrument flight rules. Air traffic control issued a clearance to the crew to track via waypoint CATEY, a track of 243 degrees magnetic from Townsville. At 0611, the crew taxied for runway 01 1. After the crew reported ready for departure, the aerodrome controller issued the crew with a departure clearance, including an instruction to turn left, heading 350 degrees, visual. The pilot in command confirmed the instruction with the copilot. The copilot, who was the pilot flying, then read back the clearance to the aerodrome controller. Both pilots reported that the departure clearance was written on the Takeoff and Landing Data Card before completing the pre take-off checks and commencing the take-off roll.

Recorded information showed that as the Saab was rolling, the Cessna was 9 NM from Townsville, inbound from Cairns, Queensland on the 329 radial, and was on descent to 1,800 ft.

When the Saab had reached an altitude of between 600 and 700 ft the copilot commenced a left turn, engaged the autopilot, and selected a heading of about 210 degrees to intercept the planned outbound track of 243 degrees. At about 1,000 ft the pilot in command, as the pilot not flying, set the power levers to climb power. During the turn, at a heading of about 290 degrees, the pilot in command realised that they had flown through the assigned heading and alerted the copilot. The copilot reported that at about the same time he also realised they had flown through the assigned heading. He disengaged the autopilot and quickly turned the aircraft to the right onto the assigned heading of 350 degrees. During the turn, the Saab's Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) produced a traffic advisory (TA) consisting of an aural alert of 'traffic traffic' and the crew observed an amber symbol on the TCAS display that was indicating traffic below them. The crew attempted to sight the traffic, but were unsuccessful. The pilot in command advised the approach controller that they were turning onto 350 degrees.

Both the approach controller and the aerodrome controller noticed that the Saab appeared to be turning as if to intercept the flight planned 243 radial. The aerodrome controller attempted to contact the Saab crew however, at that time the crew were in the process of transferring to the approach frequency and had not yet established contact. The approach controller provided traffic information to the pilot of the Cessna and when the pilot reported that he had not sighted the Saab, the approach controller instructed him to make a left orbit. The Saab crew subsequently contacted the approach controller and advised that they were turning onto a heading of 350 degrees visual, passing 2,200 ft. The approach controller passed updated traffic information to the Cessna pilot who then sighted the Saab about 500 ft above him and 0.5 NM ahead.

Recorded radar information indicated that when the horizontal distance reduced to approximately 3 NM between the closing aircraft, there was 400 ft vertical separation and the Saab subsequently flew about 500 ft directly over the Cessna.

Operational aspects

Prior to engine start, the Saab crew set the Electronic Horizontal Situation Indicator (EHSI) heading selectors to the runway heading and the course deviation indicators to the outbound track of 243 degrees.

The operator did not require any change to the EHSI heading selectors or course deviation indicators in response to heading assignments in departure clearances. The operator required pilots to set the EHSI heading selector to runway heading in readiness for a one engine inoperative situation. It was common practice for the operator's crews to confirm a departure clearance with each other before it was written down and read back to the controller.

The pilot in command indicated that, as the pilot not flying, he monitored the conduct of the flight. However, there was no specific operator requirement for the pilot not flying to monitor the turn and ensure that the pilot flying captured assigned headings.

The Saab crew reported that they were observing the 'sterile cockpit' policy specified in the operator's aircraft operating manual. That policy prohibited discussion about anything except the immediate operation of the aircraft while an aircraft was climbing or descending below 10,000 ft. They indicated that their workload was normal and that they were not rushing. The copilot considered that he was not tired and there was no apparent reason for him forgetting about the assigned heading. He also said that most of the Saab operations from Townsville involved visual departures to the west and the assignment of radar headings with departure clearances was unusual.

The TCAS fitted to the Saab provided aural and visual traffic advisories when an aircraft equipped with a functioning transponder was within about 45 seconds of the projected closest point of approach. When an aircraft was within approximately 30 seconds of the closest point of approach, the TCAS issued aural and visual resolution advisories. The operator's requirements for crew response to a TCAS traffic advisory was: 'Conduct a visual search for the intruder. If successful, maintain visual acquisition to ensure safe separation.'

The weather conditions were reported to be a light wind with greater than 10 km visibility and 1 to 2 eighths cloud coverage at 2,000 ft.


  1. Runway 01 heading is 016 degrees M.
 

The pilots of the Saab were instructed by air traffic control to depart Townsville on a heading of 350 degrees magnetic, to ensure a lateral separation standard existed between the Saab and the arriving Cessna 310. However, on departure, the pilots of the Saab continued their left turn, through the assigned heading. That reduced the lateral separation between the Saab and the inbound Cessna and resulted in an infringement of separation standards. This analysis examines the development of the occurrence and highlights the safety issues that became evident as a result of the investigation.

Despite a correct readback to the controller and recording the assigned heading on the Takeoff and Landing Data Card, the copilot forgot about the heading instruction as he commenced the turn after takeoff. The pilot's familiarity with the visual departures to the west, and his expectation of a visual departure on this occasion, may have contributed to the occurrence.

A person's capacity to remember to perform a task in the future can be adversely affected by workload, distraction, lack of mindfulness because of familiarity, and the elapsed time between any instruction and the proposed activity. Although the sterile cockpit policy practiced by the crew reduced the risk of distractions, the takeoff necessarily involved a high workload and there was a period of elapsed time between the assignment of the heading and initiation of the turn. Application of a cue such as setting the assigned heading on the EHSI heading selector or on the course deviation indicator would reduce the risk of flight crew forgetting assigned headings.

Monitoring by the pilot not flying is a means of early identification of heading deviations. In this case, the pilot in command was busy adjusting the power levers and did not immediately realise that the aircraft's heading had diverged from the assigned heading. Although the pilot not flying has a number of actions to perform during a departure, monitoring critical phases of the flight should be a high priority.

The controller's plan for separating the Saab and Cessna was based on establishing a lateral separation standard based on the Saab's assigned heading of 350 degrees and the Cessna's inbound radial of 329 degrees. The aerodrome controller and approach controller both became aware that the Saab had turned through the assigned heading, but were initially uncertain of the crew's intentions. It was a dynamic situation and the approach controller attempted to mitigate the effect of the Saab's displaced departure track by alerting the Cessna pilot to the proximity of the Saab and instructing him to conduct an orbit.

Although there was an infringement of separation standards, the Cessna's orbit delayed the closest point of approach, allowing time for the Saab to climb, which increased the vertical distance between the two aircraft as they passed. The left orbit would have been more effective had the Saab continued onto the flight planned track. However, there was little time for the approach controller to establish radio contact and ascertain the crew's intentions before the Saab crew turned their aircraft back to a heading of 350 degrees and passed almost overhead the Cessna with about 500 ft vertical separation between them.

The Traffic Alert Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) alerted the Saab crew to the proximity of the Cessna and reduced the risk of collision.

 

As a result of this incident, the operator issued a course deviation indicator (CDI) setting standing order. That order included the instruction that if a crew receives an assigned heading from air traffic control, prior to takeoff, the Electronic Horizontal Situation Indicator CDI was to be set to that heading.

The operator also issued an inter-crew communications standing order that included a requirement for the pilot not flying to call 'approaching heading' within 15 degrees of an assigned heading following the initial turn after takeoff. The order also stated that:

As a general rule in multi crew operations any ATC or other internal critical instructions need to be read back amongst the crew to ensure that the instruction has been acknowledged and understood.

 
General details
Date: 13 October 2005 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 0618 EST Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):Townsville, Aerodrome Occurrence type:Loss of separation 
State: Queensland Occurrence class: Airspace 
Release date: 02 June 2006 Occurrence category: Incident 
Report status: Final Highest injury level: None 
 
Aircraft 1 details
Aircraft manufacturer: Cessna Aircraft Company 
Aircraft model: 310 
Aircraft registration: VH-TFP 
Serial number: 310R1844 
Type of operation: Unknown 
Damage to aircraft: Nil 
Departure point:Unknown
Destination:Townsville, Qld
Aircraft 2 details
Aircraft manufacturer: S.A.A.B. Aircraft Co 
Aircraft model: 340 
Aircraft registration: VH-UYA 
Type of operation: Air Transport Low Capacity 
Damage to aircraft: Nil 
Departure point:Townsville, Qld
Departure time:0616 EST
Destination:Trepell, Qld
 
 
 
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Last update 16 February 2016