What happened

On 20 September 2013, a loss of separation occurred about 17 km west of Adelaide, South Australia, between an Airbus A330 aircraft, registered VH-EBO (EBO) operating a scheduled passenger service from Sydney, New South Wales to Perth, Western Australia, and an Airbus A330 aircraft, registered VH-EBS (EBS), operating a scheduled passenger service from Perth to Sydney.

Both aircraft were within radar surveillance coverage at the time of the occurrence and were equipped with a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS).

What the ATSB found

The ATSB determined the en route air traffic controller did not adequately assess the traffic for potential conflicts before issuing a climb instruction to the EBO flight crew. The air traffic control computer system subsequently alerted the controller to the conflict and they promptly commenced compromised separation recovery actions. The flight crew of EBS responded to alerts generated by the aircraft’s TCAS. The TCAS in EBO malfunctioned and did not provide the flight crew with traffic information or generate any safety alerts. The reason for the malfunction could not be determined and the equipment manufacturer considered it to be a unique event.

The ATSB identified a safety issue relating to the convergence of many published air routes overhead Adelaide, combined with the convergence point being positioned on the sector boundary of the Augusta and Tailem Bend sectors, which reduced the separation assurance provided by strategically separated one-way air routes and increased the potential requirement for controller intervention to assure separation.

What's been done as a result

Airservices Australia is undertaking a review of air routes and of the Australian airspace design that contributes to risk. There is also consideration to providing more flexible route structures using modern navigation technology to create traffic directional flows and remove convergence points.

In addition Airservices undertook pro-active safety action associated with safety alerting and traffic avoidance advice by air traffic services.

Safety message

This occurrence is a reminder of the potential for skill-based errors to occur when experienced personnel are performing their tasks and highlights the importance of controllers following their normal processes to ensure traffic is assessed prior to providing control instructions.