Aviation safety investigations & reports

Boeing 767, ZK-NBC, 7 km South of Essendon VIC, 13 May 1987

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 24KB]

The aircraft was radar-vectored for an approach to Melbourne (Tullamarine) Runway 34. At the time the weather was overcast, with scattered cloud down to 1000 feet above ground level. Cloud and rain affected flight visibility and interfered with the radar display of aircraft position. The flight crew reported they were "visual" when at 2000 feet and about 17 kilometres (9 nautical miles [nm]) south east of Melbourne. The Approach Controller advised the flight of its radar position in relation to Melbourne and requested confirmation that the crew had Runway 34 in sight. When this was acknowledged, instructions were given for the flight to take up a heading of 320 degrees; to intercept the extended centre line of Runway 34 from this heading; and to make a visual approach. Shortly afterwards the Tower Controller at Essendon Airport (5 nm south east of Melbourne) called the Melbourne Approach Controller and reported that a heavy aircraft was on approach for (Runway 35) Essendon. The Approach Controller called the aircraft, requested its present altitude and, on being advised it was "through fifteen hundred" (feet), instructed the flight to climb to 2000 feet and turn left onto a heading of 320 degrees. He also advised that the aircraft was 7 nm south east of Melbourne and still two miles to the right of the runway centre line. Shortly afterwards, the flight crew reported they were at 2000 feet and had "Runway 34 Melbourne in sight". The aircraft was then cleared for a straight in approach and for transfer to the tower frequency. The aircraft landed without further incident. Subsequent readout of the radar recording and the airborne Flight Data Recorder indicated that when the initial clearance for a visual approach was given the aircraft turned onto the required heading of 320 degrees, but very shortly afterwards turned right, in line with Runway 35 at Essendon. The flight crew have confirmed that they initially turned towards Essendon but detected their error at about the time the Approach Controller instructed them to turn (back) to 320 degrees and to climb. The Flight Data Recorder showed that the aircraft reached a minimum altitude of 1280 feet (above mean sea level) about 6 nm from Melbourne. The aircraft then began to gain altitude. There have been a number of instances where Essendon has been mistaken for Melbourne. The two airports are in close proximity and have similar runway configurations. In this instance the flight crew members were not very familiar with the Melbourne area or with the approach to Runway 34. The visibility was poor and a visual approach was undertaken from a point about 9 nm from the runway. The Fentons Hill VOR (to the north of Melbourne) was not utilised to assist the crew with interception of the Runway 34 extended centre line.


It is recommended that consideration be given to the following 1 Operators briefing the relevant flight crews on the real possibility of misidentifying the two airports. 2 Operators instructing flight crew to make full use of available radio aids on visual approaches to Melbourne. 3 The Department of Aviation providing visual and/or radio aids to assist ready identification of Runway 34, such as sequenced strobe lights leading to the threshold and/or an instrument approach facility to the south of the airport.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 24KB]
General details
Date: 13 May 1987   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: N/K    
Location: 7 km South of Essendon    
State: Victoria   Occurrence type: Miscellaneous - Other  
Release date: 10 June 1987   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer The Boeing Company  
Aircraft model 767  
Aircraft registration ZK-NBC  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Wellington NZ  
Departure time N/K  
Destination Melbourne VIC