Jetstar A320 flew within 180m of two-seater aircraft

written by Adam Thorn | March 1, 2021
Figure 3 Recorded flight paths of VH-VGP and 24-7456
The ATSB’s diagram shows the recorded flight paths of the A320 (VH-VGP) and the Jabiru (24-7456).

A Jetstar A320 with 163 passengers onboard flew within just 180 metres vertically of a two-seater aircraft as it approached to land at Byron Bay.

The two came so close that the crew of the Airbus spotted the Jabiru J230D out of the window moments before it passed below the aircraft, with both crews observing “no lateral separation”.

The incident took place in November 2020 and the A320’s traffic collision avoidance system was successfully triggered.

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“The ATSB’s continuing investigation will include the examination of airspace density levels; airspace suitability; flight crew actions; CA/GRS procedural design and application; and future Ballina airspace plans,” said the ATSB’s director of transport safety, Stuart Macleod.

The Jetstar A320-232, VH-VGP, had seven crew on board and was on approach to land at Ballina Byron Gateway Airport on 28 November 2020.

It was operating a scheduled service from Melbourne, while the Jabiru J230D aircraft, with a pilot and a passenger on board, was conducting a private visual flight rules flight from Heck Field in Queensland to Evans Head.

Aircraft operating into Ballina and Evans Head, as well as nearby Lismore and Casino airports, are required to broadcast positional calls on a common traffic advisory frequency, or CTAF, while at Ballina Airport a certified air/ground radio operator (CA/GRO) relays positional information (but does not provide a separation service) to aircraft operating in and out of Ballina to aid pilots with decision making.

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The ATSB’s preliminary report into the occurrence details that as their aircraft tracked towards Ballina the flight crew of the A320 received a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) proximate traffic alert for an unidentified aircraft at an unspecified altitude in the 11 o’clock position, which unbeknown to them, was probably the Jabiru aircraft.

The A320 crew attempted to sight the traffic, but were not successful. The proximate alert then escalated to a traffic advisory.

The flight crew maintained their visual scan and continued with the approach to Ballina.

Subsequent analysis of the A320’s quick access recorder and data recorded by the Jabiru pilot’s OzRunways electronic flight bag app indicated that at approximately 12 nautical miles south-west of Ballina Airport, the tracks of the A320 and the Jabiru intersected, with vertical separation between the two aircraft reducing to about 600 feet.

The flight crew of the A320 sighted the Jabiru just prior to passing below the aircraft, the preliminary report notes. The pilot of the Jabiru sighted the A320 shortly after passing above it.

Both the pilot of the Jabiru and the A320 flight crew observed no lateral separation between the two aircraft.

Macleod said today’s preliminary report does not include any safety findings or analysis, which will be detailed in the subsequent final investigation release. “However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken,” he said.

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10 Comments

  • I would make the general point that in Class E airspace (which does not apply at Ballina), but IFR aircraft in Class Echo require an airways clearance to operate but VFR aircraft do not, safe separation being achieved by the application of a 500 foot (or just 152m) vertical height buffer, with no lateral separation required. For example, a VFR Cherokee could be northbound at 6,500 feet tracking directly underneath a southbound DASH 8 at 7,000 feet or even an A320 awaiting further climb.

  • Jez

    says:

    Not the first time jet aircraft have come close to a collision at Ballina with light aircraft. The airport is well overdue for tower control. What will it take to get it? A fatal accident?

  • Ron

    says:

    VFR and did not see an A320? Ho Boy. Licence suspended?8

  • Andy Hegh

    says:

    While flying from Perth to Brisbane in a Qantas
    A330 last year in Central Australia, I was amazed
    to look out the window and see a Qantas A380 coming directly at us from the starboard side.
    He appeared to be climbing towards us, as a lot of black smoke was coming out of the engines, and he flew directly under us.
    When I made enquires from the cockpit, I was told the A380 came within 300 metres.

    • John

      says:

      Andy, 300 metres is normal vertical separation. 1000 feet is normal RVSM vertical separation but remember the A380 is large aircraft and looks a lot closer than you think. Also if the aircraft you are in is a slight banked turn at the time, it will look as though the other aircraft is at the same level. This is a common question we get for passengers but you can be assured that if there was a problem there would’ve been a TCAS escape manoeuvre carried to avoid and if you didn’t feel any manoeuvre, then it was all okay. If there was ‘lots of black smoke’, this is quite abnormal as the colour of the con(densation) trail is white if anything as it’s made up of water vapour. At least it was below you, you don’t need to hit the wake of an A380, I have experienced that first hand at 35,000’ in a 737!

    • B Milosev

      says:

      300 metres ( 1000 ft ) separation vertically is normal operations.

    • B Milosev

      says:

      300 metres ( 1000 ft ) separation vertically is normal operations. A380 engines don’t emit black smoke that was contrails and crossing traffic 1000 ft verical separation happens thousands of times every day. Normal Ops.

  • Janelle

    says:

    Only a matter of time with this airport. Been saying for years. Only a matter of time.

  • John

    says:

    This again highlights the issues with the non-compliance of a lot of pilots with recommended CTAF Procedures. Most are not doing it correctly or aren’t doing it at all. A recent near miss between gliders at Narromine and a transiting Jabiru who didn’t transmit on the CTAF highlights the problem. At my local airfield, you only have to listen out on the CTAF frequency and you can hear multiple breaches of procedures by operators including big name flying schools from Wellcamp, Archerfield, Caloundra, Sunshine coast and others operating anything from LSA’s to business jets not obeying laid down ERSA or CTAF requirements. The proposal by Air Services Australia to lower Class E airspace in this area is not going to help but force the cowboys to not even talk at all.

  • Andy

    says:

    While the horizontal separation might have been
    OK, the vertical separation seemed a bit cavalier.
    There was no VSI. The A380 went directly under us. That type of flying might be acceptable in the crowded skies of Europe, however in the remoteness of Central Australia, I think the pilots were just being a bit irresponsible at the expense of the passengers. I was a pilot, so I think I know what I am talking about.

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