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Airliner veers away after aircraft takes off on same runway in NSW

written by Adam Thorn | January 5, 2024

The dashed lines show the approximate paths over the ground of each aircraft. The track of VED is based on recorded ADS-B data. The track of SFA is based on pilots’ statements. (ATSB)

A 34-seat regional airliner was forced to veer out of the way of a Piper Cherokee that took off on the same runway at Shellharbour in NSW.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report into the incident last July revealed the smaller aircraft’s pilot spotted the larger Saab 340 ahead but chose to continue anyway, despite it being “almost certainly” possible to abort.

Investigators concluded the Piper pilot used “non-standard radio phraseology” on approach and then didn’t hear the other plane’s vital communication that it was going to backtrack down the same runway. The Piper eventually flew over the left wing of the Saab at 150 feet, or 45 metres, above ground level.

Derek Hoffmeister, the ATSB’s manager of transport safety, revealed the Piper pilot wrongly assumed the Saab would be using the taxiway, and not the runway, after landing.

“They were unaware that a weight restriction on the taxiway meant the Saab had to use the runway to backtrack, and so when they saw the Saab begin to turn at the end of its landing, they turned their attention to other aircraft in the circuit,” he said.

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The Link SAAB 340B, VH-VED, was flying into the NSW regional airport from Brisbane when the incident occurred on 6 July 2023.

The full ATSB investigation details how the Piper pilot began their take-off from runway 34 at Shellharbour as part of a solo navigational training exercise.

At the same time, a Saab 340 regional airliner was backtracking along the same runway, having just landed on a scheduled passenger service from Brisbane.

As the crew of the Saab saw the Piper conducting its take-off roll towards them, they attempted to contact the Piper pilot on the radio, but were unable to make contact, and veered their aircraft to the edge of the runway.

“Additionally, the investigation determined that once the Piper pilot saw the Saab, it would have almost certainly been possible for them to reject the take-off,” Hoffmeister said.

“Despite this, they elected to continue the take-off from an occupied runway.”

Hoffmeister said the incident was another reminder of the need for pilots to make clear radio broadcasts and pay attention to transmissions being made by other pilots, in particular at a non-towered airport like Shellharbour.

“At a non-towered airport, pilots are responsible for maintaining separation between one another,” he said.

As a result, Schofields Flying Club has revised its admission procedures for students trained by other organisations and introduced procedures to increase oversight and standardise competency assessments among flight instructors.

Link Airways, meanwhile, has reviewed its policy and guidance for operations into Shellharbour and encouraged crew to re-familiarise themselves with Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) guidance for radio procedures in non-controlled airspace. You can read the full report here.

“One of the safety concerns highlighted by the ATSB’s SafetyWatch initiative is reducing the collision risk around non-towered aerodromes, and pilots are encouraged to regularly review this and other guidance on this subject,” said Hoffmeister.

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