On 13 October 2011, a Jetstar Airways Airbus Industrie A320-232 aircraft, registered VH-VGO (VGO), departed Christchurch, New Zealand on a scheduled passenger service to Brisbane, Queensland.
While VGO was on descent into Brisbane Airport, the air traffic controller was coordinating diversions and clearances for multiple aircraft due to significant weather in the vicinity. At 5,000 ft, the air traffic controller issued an instruction for VGO to turn left immediately due to conflicting traffic. The crew complied with the instruction and entered an active thunderstorm cell.
The aircraft encountered heavy rain and the airspeed began to rapidly decrease. The autopilot disconnected and the pilot applied Takeoff/Go Around thrust. The captain informed air traffic control (ATC) that they needed a different heading of 090 degrees to fly clear of the weather, which was subsequently granted. The aircraft landed at Brisbane Airport, there were no reported injuries to crew or passengers, and no damage to the aircraft.
High workload can cause narrowing of attention and task fixation. This makes it difficult to continually assess the big picture and develop appropriate strategies. Effective workload management includes, for line controller and supervisors alike; forward planning and seeking/providing assistance when needed.
In this incident, deteriorating weather combined with high traffic volume limited the options available to the controller to ensure separation. As a result, the controller used phraseology which led the flight crew to believe that there was an imminent risk of collision and to their subsequent turn into hazardous weather.