Written by Rebekah Cavanagh

Published by heraldsun.com.au

UPDATE 4.45pm: AIRLINES have played down a serious mid-air drama which saw two Melbourne passenger jets put on a collision course.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating how the Virgin Blue Boeing 737 and Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 passenger aircraft came to be on a collision course last Tuesday, and have described the incident as “serious”.

Virgin Blue flight DJ1457 was carrying 120 passengers when it was discovered it was flying into the path of Cathay Pacific flight CX135 south of Katherine over the Northern Territory last Tuesday, according to a report in the NT News.

Initial reports indicated they were heading towards each other on the same “reciprocal track” at 37,000 feet, after the Cathay Pacific flight was instructed onto the wrong path.

The north-bound Virgin Blue is understood to have been dangerously close to the south-bound Cathay Pacific flight heading south from Hong Kong to Melbourne.

The ATSB said it was not until the crew of the Cathay Pacific flight questioned the controller, and the controller then instructed them to climb to another flight path and cleared the aircraft to divert right, that a collision was avoided.

The Virgin Blue flight crew then told the air traffic controllers that they would divert right, and both planes passed each other safely.

“When the crew of the A330 questioned the controller, the controller instructed the A330 crew to climb to FL380 (38,000 feet) and cleared the aircraft to divert right of track,” an early report by the ATSB states.

ATSB investigators are treating the incident as “serious”.

Bureau spokesman Neville McMartin confirmed the ATSB had been notified on December 22 about “an incident involving an Airbus A330 which was southbound at 37,000 feet and a Boeing 737 which was on a reciprocal track”.

The fault is believed to have been made by Brisbane-based air traffic controllers.

The incident, while serious, was not enough to trigger the aircrafts’ automatic Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS), and had been given a lower level (Level 5) category by the ATSB.

Virgin Blue spokesman Colin Lippiatt said it was “inaccurate” to call the incident a near miss.

“The two aircraft were 20 nautical miles apart when both aircraft altered course and the Cathay aircraft also changed altitude to ensure they remained a safe distance apart,” he said.

“This was done in consultation with Air Traffic Control and the flight crew of both aircraft knew exactly where each aircraft was at all times.”

He said it was not uncommon for aircraft to pass each other during flight.

“This is why procedures are in place around the world to ensure adequate and safe separation (distance) between aircraft at all times,” he said.

“If anything, this instance simply demonstrates that those procedures work.”

Cathay Pacific has issued a statement saying its aircrew “acted appropriately”.

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