Aviation safety investigations & reports

Flight path management and ground proximity warning involving Airbus A330-202, VH-EBV, 15 km NNE of Melbourne Airport, Victoria on 8 March 2013

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final report

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What happened

On 8 March 2013, the flight crew of a Qantas Airways Limited (Qantas) A330 aircraft, registered VH-EBV, was conducting a visual approach to Melbourne Airport, Victoria. The captain was the pilot flying with autopilot engaged.

Soon after being cleared for the approach, on descent through 3,000 ft, the captain set an altitude target of 1,000 ft in the autoflight system and selected the landing gear down, the first stage of wing flap and 180 kt as the target speed. The descent was continued in autoflight open descent mode and reached a maximum of 2,200 ft/min. As the aircraft was descending through about 1,800 ft the first officer advised the captain that they were low. The captain reduced the rate of descent by selecting autoflight vertical speed mode but a short time later the enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) provided ‘TERRAIN’ alerts followed by ‘PULL UP’ warnings. The crew carried out an EGPWS recovery manoeuvre and subsequently landed via an instrument approach.

At the time of the EGPWS alert the aircraft had descended to 1,400 ft, which in that area was 600 ft above ground level, with 9 NM (17 km) to run to touchdown. This was 100 ft below the control area lower limit and 1,900 ft below a normal 3° descent profile.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that during the visual approach the captain’s performance capability was probably reduced due to the combined effects of disrupted and restricted sleep, a limited recent food intake and a cold/virus. The captain assessed the aircraft’s flight path using glide slope indications that were not valid. This resulted in an incorrect assessment that the aircraft was above the nominal descent profile.

In addition, the combination of the selection of an ineffective altitude target while using the autoflight open descent mode and ineffective monitoring of the aircraft’s flight path resulted in a significant deviation below the nominal descent profile. The flight crew’s action in reducing the aircraft's rate of descent following their comprehension of the altitude deviation did not prevent the aircraft descending outside controlled airspace and the activation of the EGPWS.

The ATSB also identified that limited guidance was provided by Qantas on the conduct of a visual approach and the associated briefing required to ensure flight crew had a shared understanding of the intended approach.

What's been done as a result

In response to this occurrence Qantas updated their training material for visual approaches and enhanced similar material in their captain/first officer conversion/promotion training books. In addition, targeted questions were developed that required check pilot signoff for proficiency. Finally, visual approaches were included as a discussion subject during flight crew route checks for the period 2013–2015.

Safety message

The ATSB reminds operators and flight crew of the importance of continuous attention to the appropriateness of the autoflight system modes in use. Equally, the ATSB stresses the importance of continually monitoring descent profiles, irrespective of the type of approach being flown and the level of automation being used. For flight crew, this occurrence illustrates the need to communicate their intentions and actions to ensure a shared understanding of the intended approach.


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Safety Issue

Go to AO-2013-047-SI-01 -

Visual approach guidance

Qantas provided limited guidance on the conduct of a visual approach and the associated briefing required to enable the flight crew to have a shared understanding of the intended approach.

Safety issue details
Issue number: AO-2013-047-SI-01
Who it affects: Flight crew
Status: Adequately addressed
General details
Date: 08 March 2013   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1851 EDT   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 15 km NNE, Melbourne Airport    
State: Victoria   Occurrence type: E/GPWS warning  
Release date: 09 July 2015   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus  
Aircraft model A330  
Aircraft registration VH-EBV  
Serial number 1365  
Operator Qantas  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Sector Jet  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Sydney, NSW  
Destination Melbourne, Vic.  
Last update 03 April 2020