The ATSB is investigating a near miss at Sydney Airport that left two Qantas 737-800s (similar aircraft pictured) on a collision course last month.
The incident on 29 April occurred when a flight departing for Brisbane was cleared to take off on Sydney’s parallel runway 16L at the same time as a flight arriving from Queenstown was landing. Each plane was carrying around 170 passengers.
In its investigation summary, the ATSB said both VH-VZM, leaving for Brisbane, and VH-VZW, arriving from Queenstown, were using the same runway.
“It was reported that at 1747 local time, after a preceding flight had vacated runway 16L, the controller issued VH-VZM with a takeoff clearance, and there was a close proximity event with VH-VZW on approach,” the summary said.
“The controller reportedly instructed the flight crew of VH-VZW to conduct a missed approach and then vectored the aircraft on to a diverging track.”
A spokesperson for Qantas told The Australian that both aircraft were following directions from air traffic control. Airservices Australia is believed to be investigating the controller’s instructions to the two planes internally.
“As part of the investigation, the ATSB will interview involved parties, examine radar, radio and flight data recordings, obtain relevant information from the operator and air traffic service provider, and collect other evidence as required,” the ATSB said.
“A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation. Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties, so that appropriate safety action can be taken.”
Concerns have been growing for some time about staffing levels across Australia’s ATC network, with the professional body for Qantas pilots raising the alarm in January after a report in The Australian revealed 340 instances of “uncontrolled airspace” since June of 2022.
Additionally, in an internal Airservices report seen by the newspaper, the diversion from Sydney of a Qantas 787 in February — which left passengers stranded on the tarmac at Newcastle for seven hours, as the airport lacked adequate immigration facilities to process the incoming passengers from Santiago, Chile — was found to have resulted from three Sydney ATC staff being made to do the work of five, prompting an ATSB investigation.
Airservices told Australian Aviation last month that it had enough staff to man the entire network despite “availability issues”.
“Airservices employs more than 900 ATCs, 97 per cent of which are in operational roles. Airservices only requires about 800 ATCs to fully staff the ATC network,” said a spokesperson for Airservices in a statement.
“Rosters are tight in some areas as a component of the ATC workforce are currently unavailable for operational duties. These staff are either on long-term sick leave, parental leave, training for other ATC positions, or working on a project.”