In pilot parlance passenger flights by Virgin Blue and Jetstar played “swish swish” over Launceston Airport last Thursday night, just after the control tower closed at 10pm. However, apart from some patchy references to the incident on the Pprune (professional pilot rumour network) message board, there is nothing but silence so far from the airlines or the authorities.

This is odd. Usually false rumours are quickly buried, and Pprune runs enough of them to keep the legal departments of news media organisations in a state of high anxiety all year.

These are the bare bones of the incident. Virgin Blue flight DJ610 from Melbourne, a 737 with 144 seats, decided to go around for a second landing attempt because fog was starting to form over the runway at Launceston immediately after the control tower clocked off.

A similar decision was made by a Jetstar A320 configured with 180 passenger seats which was also approaching the airport some eight kilometres or more behind the Virgin Blue flight.

However as Jetstar climbed away it passed Virgin Blue travelling in the opposite direction, apparently not quite head on, but not quite in a “usual” manner either.

Was this a near miss? Or was it just a non-serious and inadvertent degradation of the separation standards required for air traffic around an airport that for some reason shuts down tower supervision in the minutes before as many as 324 passengers could be about to land?

It is possible that there is nothing in the incident that requires an investigation by the Australian Safety Transport Bureau because each jet’s pilots were fully aware of the situation.

Maybe it doesn’t matter because low cost flying, profit hungry airports and AirServices Australia are all hairy chested professionals who don’t need sissy stuff like terminal control?

Or maybe it needs a hard look.

Some answers either way would be welcome. Oh no, not welcome. For anyone who wants to read a load of tripe, Google up the Miller Report that arose from the squalid Queensland coronial inquest into the black deaths in the Transair crash at Lockhart River in 2005.

The Miller Report is all about trying to manage disclosures of dangerous practices in aviation by locking down the sort of criticism the independent investigator, the ATSB, made of the non-regulating safety regulator CASA presumably on the basis that smothering contrary voices might stop bad airline practices turning into piles of body bags.

It won’t work.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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