13 near-miss incidents for flights in the Yorkshire region in the past 3 years

4.5.2010   (Yorkshire Post)

by Jack Blanchard

THIRTEEN commercial aircraft have been involved in “near-miss” incidents with
other planes when flying in or out of Yorkshire airports over the past three years.

Inattentive military pilots, hapless trainee air traffic controllers and wayward
model aircraft are among the causes of a catalogue of incidents involving passenger
airliners and other commercial aircraft flying in and out of Leeds Bradford, Humbersid
e and Doncaster Robin Hood airports since the start of 2007, a study by the Yorkshire
Post has revealed.

No actual collisions have taken place but of the 13 so-called “airprox” incidents
– recorded whenever a pilot believes he is in danger of crashing into another
plane – two have since been assessed as Category B incidents, and one at the highest
level, Category A, meaning the safety of aircraft was compromised.

In the first, an Eastern Airways plane on a domestic flight from Humberside to
Durham was descending over the Vale of York when it found itself heading into
the path of an RAF Hawk jet. The airliner tried to swerve but as it did so the
Hawk also changed course and continued into its path.

The airline pilot was forced to pull out of his descent until the danger had
passed, later assessing the risk as “high”. The aircraft came within a few hundred
feet of collision.

Investigators concluded the RAF pilot had misunderstood his instructions and
was swerving to avoid an entirely different aircraft. A report by the UK Airprox
Board into the January 2007 incident states: “The Hawk crew’s lack of appreciation
of what was actually happening convinced (board) members safety was not assured
by any means. The safety of these two aircraft had indeed been compromised.”

The second Category B incident occurred one year later, when a cargo plane on
a training flight to Doncaster came within a few hundred feet of a light aircraft
which had not been in contact with local air traffic controllers. Cloudy conditions
meant neither pilot saw each other until relatively late, but under emergency
instructions from controllers the cargo plane was able to manoeuvre out of the

“Mindful of the close proximity, non-sightings by both crews, the late but robust
manoeuvring by the (cargo plane) crew… the board concluded safety had indeed
been compromised,” investigators stated.

In the other airprox incidents it was assessed that no actual risk of collision
had occurred due to the distance between the aircraft involved – though investigative
reports reveal a wealth of issues that can go wrong when manoeuvring planes through
the UK’s busy skies.

In one incident involving a plane heading into Leeds Bradford Airport, the air
traffic controller said he “had allowed himself to be distracted by talking to
his colleagues” and was found to have not been monitoring the aircraft closely

In another, the controller at Doncaster Robin Hood airport was “mentoring a new
trainee” who failed to warn a departing Boeing 747 airliner about a helicopter
in his path, forcing both to take evasive action.

And in a near-miss near Humberside, the cabin crew of an airliner were sent sprawling
when their plane was forced into a sudden climb by two approaching RAF jets.

There have also been numerous incidents which did not involved commercial airliners
– most recently when a private helicopter was at real risk of colliding with a
model plane being flown by a model aircraft club member over Doncaster. The helicopter
pilot was so furious following the Category B incident he landed in the field
below and became embroiled in a furious altercation with the model aircraft owner.

The most serious near-miss over Yorkshire’s skies occurred in March 2008, and
received widespread attention although no commercial aircraft were involved.

An RAF Typhoon came desperately close to colliding with a private aircraft, with
investigators classing the incident Category A – the highest.

Actual mid-air collisions between aircraft remain extremely rare. Between 1995
and 2004 there were seven fatal mid-air collisions worldwide involving large fixed-wing
aeroplanes, resulting in 451 fatalities.

There has been no such accident in UK airspace since 1949.

A spokesman for the UK’s air regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, said: ”
The number of airprox incidents involving commercial aircraft has significantly
declined over the past 10 years, and in 2008 only two incidents in the whole of
the UK were independently assessed as having a possible risk. This is out of over
two million flights using UK airspace.”

Air safety charity the General Aviation Safety Council agreed but said it was
important high safety standards are maintained.

Chief executive Mike O’Donoghue said: “The fact we have not had an actual accident
does not make us take this issue any less seriously but I think the record on
this is pretty good. These incidents are usually a very long way short of a confliction
actually happening.

The CAA produces AirProx data for the most serious incidents, which can be found