Aviation safety investigations & reports

Navigation event involving Saab 340B, VH-TRX, 11 km SSW Williamtown Airport, NSW on 8 November 2012

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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What happened

On the evening of 8 November 2012, the crew of a Regional Express Saab Aircraft Co. 340B, registered VH-TRX, were conducting a scheduled passenger flight from Sydney to Williamtown (Newcastle Airport), New South Wales, under the instrument flight rules.

After the crew reported on descent to Williamtown, the aircraft was cleared by the approach controller for a visual approach via a right base to runway 12. At 10 NM (19 km) south of Williamtown, the crew transferred to the aerodrome controller. Instead of tracking toward Williamtown as anticipated, the controller observed the aircraft manoeuvring at a greater distance than usual from the runway and advised the crew of their position. The crew then requested radar guidance and were directed toward the airport.

The crew visually identified runway 12 and landed the aircraft about 14 minutes before last light. After landing the crew advised the controller that they were unfamiliar with locating the airport at night.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that, in the low light conditions, the captain misidentified a coal loading and storage facility, 6 NM (11 km) south-west of Williamtown, as the airport environment.

What's been done as a result

Following an internal investigation, Regional Express alerted its crews to the possible misidentification of features in the Williamtown area and reminded them of the importance of using navigation equipment to verify their position. In addition, crews were advised that visual approaches were no longer to be conducted at Williamtown during normal operations and additional material on situation awareness and assertiveness skills was also incorporated into existing human factors and non technical skills training.

The Williamtown air traffic control unit reminded its controllers of the need to provide assertive safety alert instructions, including the provision of minimum sector altitudes and prompt position information to aircraft that deviated from a cleared route, or whose observed position differed from that reported.

Safety message

This occurrence highlights the possibility of crews misidentifying ground features for the airport environment during visual approaches, especially in conditions of poor light. To avoid misleading visual cues during visual approaches, crews should confirm that they have correctly identified and are tracking to the intended destination by crosschecking with the aircraft’s navigation equipment.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 1.51MB]
General details
Date: 08 November 2012   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1930 ESuT   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Williamtown Airport    
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Lost/unsure of position  
Release date: 13 March 2015   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Saab Aircraft Co.  
Aircraft model 340  
Aircraft registration VH-TRX  
Serial number 340B-287  
Operator Regional Express  
Type of operation Air Transport Low Capacity  
Sector Turboprop  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Sydney, NSW  
Destination Williamtown, NSW  
Last update 03 April 2020