Aviation safety investigations & reports

Loss of separation involving Airbus A330, 9M-XXC and Airbus A320, VH-VFO, near Gold Coast Airport, Queensland on 21 July 2016

Investigation number:
AO-2016-084
Status: Discontinued

Discontinuation notice

Discontinuation notice published 7 November 2019

Section 21 (2) of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act) empowers the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to discontinue an investigation into a transport safety matter at any time. Section 21 (3) of the TSI Act requires the ATSB to publish a statement setting out the reasons for discontinuing an investigation.

On 26 July 2016, the ATSB commenced an investigation into a loss of separation between a Jetstar Airbus A320 registered VH-VFO and an Air Asia X Airbus A330 registered 9M-XXC, near Gold Coast Airport, Queensland.

The Airbus A330 was departing Gold Coast Airport for Auckland, New Zealand while the A320 was arriving from Avalon, Victoria. Both aircraft were in visual meteorological conditions and the flight crews of both aircraft had the other aircraft in sight.

At the request of air traffic control, the flight crew of the A330 reported the A320 in sight and was instructed to pass behind that aircraft and climb. As the A330 climbed, both flight crew received a Traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS)[1] Resolution advisory (RA).[2]Separation reduced to about 600 ft vertically and 0.35 NM (650 m) laterally. The required separation standard was 1,000 ft and 3 NM (5.6 km).

An Airservices Australia (Airservices) internal investigation into the occurrence identified the following safety issue:

Visual-pilot separation is not applied internationally in Classes A, B and C airspace. This may result in pilots of foreign registered aircraft not being familiar with their requirements and obligations when subject to this form of separation.

In response to the identified issue, safety action was undertaken to:

Review the risks of the application of visual pilot separation as applied to foreign registered aircraft. In determining its ongoing feasibility, with these operators, ensure any identified risks are appropriately managed

That review was conducted and resulted in a recommendation to:

Remove PASS BEHIND as a stand-alone phraseology for assigning pilot visual separation. (Note: could still be used in conjunction with other phraseology e.g. MAINTAIN SEPARATION WITH (AND PASS BEHIND).

The review also recommended that the following rule changes be considered in regard to assigning visual separation:

• Changing phraseology from MAINTAIN SEPARATION WITH to MAINTAIN OWN SEPARATION WITH. (alignment with ICAO phraseology)

• Restricting the use of pilot visual separation for jet traffic to sight and follow scenarios. That is, no ‘pass behind’ for jets.

• Limiting the application of pilot visual separation for foreign registered aircraft to sight and follow situations.

Airservices subsequently advised that it intends to implement the review recommendation and also the phraseology rule change described in the first dot point of the review considerations.

The ATSB reviewed the Airservices reports, safety issues and safety actions. Based on this review, the ATSB considered it was unlikely that further investigation would identify any systemic safety issues. Consequently, the ATSB has discontinued this investigation.

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  1. Traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS): a type of airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS).
  2. Resolution advisory (RA): a manoeuvre, or a manoeuvre restriction, calculated by an airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS) to avoid a collision. Pilots are expected to respond immediately to an RA unless doing so would jeopardize the safe operation of the flight.
General details
Date: 21 July 2016   Investigation status: Discontinued  
Time: 11:42 EST   Investigation level: Complex - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Gold Coast Airport    
State: Queensland   Occurrence type: Loss of separation  
Release date: 07 November 2019   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Discontinued   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft 1 details

Aircraft 1 details
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus  
Aircraft model A330-343X  
Aircraft registration 9M-XXC  
Serial number 1048  
Operator Air Asia  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Sector Jet  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Gold Coast, Qld  
Destination Auckland, NZ  

Aircraft 2 details

Aircraft 2 details
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus  
Aircraft model A320-232  
Aircraft registration VH-VFO  
Serial number 5631  
Operator Jetstar Airways  
Type of operation Air Transport High Capacity  
Sector Jet  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Departure point Avalon, Vic.  
Destination Gold Coast, Qld  
Last update 07 November 2019