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Investigation: Loss of separation involving Boeing 737 near Amberley, Queensland

Christian Fernsby |
On 11 October 2018 a Qantas Airways Boeing 737-800, registered VH-VZD (VZD) was inbound to Brisbane, Queensland from Melbourne, Victoria on a scheduled passenger flight.

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Another Boeing 737-800 also on a scheduled passenger flight, operated by Virgin Australia Airlines and registered VH-YFW (YFW), departed Brisbane, Queensland for Proserpine, Queensland.

The two aircraft were on reciprocal tracks in the Amberley Queensland airspace when a loss of separation occurred. The aircraft inbound to Brisbane, VZD, was being controlled on the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Amberley (military) air traffic control (ATC) frequency and the aircraft outbound from Brisbane, YFW, was being controlled on a Brisbane (civil) ATC frequency.

RAAF Amberley and Brisbane ATC operated non-linked air traffic management systems, which did not share a common display. Between ATC jurisdictions without linked systems information was shared using manual coordination between ATC elements.

The departing aircraft from Brisbane (YFW) entered Amberley airspace without a hand-off from Brisbane ATC and without instructions to the crew to change to the Amberley frequency. This resulted in YFW monitoring an incorrect frequency on entry to Amberley airspace and Amberley ATC initially unable to communicate with the flight crew.

The Brisbane departures air traffic controller did not hand-off the departing aircraft YFW until after it had entered Amberley airspace. In addition, just prior to this incident, Brisbane terminal control unit did not advise Amberley ATC of a change in configuration to the terminal control unit consoles.

This led to Amberley ATC contacting the incorrect console position at Brisbane ATC once the departing aircraft had entered Amberley airspace, and delayed the opportunity for Amberley ATC to resolve the impending conflict.

Once appropriate communication with Amberley and Brisbane ATC was established, the outbound aircraft was transferred to the Amberley frequency, and the aircraft were initially diverted away from each other, before being re-established on their respective tracks.

Following the occurrence both RAAF Amberley and Brisbane ATC have taken corrective actions to improve communication and coordination between the two units.

This has included deploying a dedicated communications pathway between Amberley approach and the Brisbane Departures South air traffic control positions, and implementing an airspace release that controls the risk that short notice deviations present across the non-linked systems.

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