I am also pretty sure from my readings of Aviation Herald that dozens of incidents happen every day. Few result in anything beyond a sensationalist headline and a few lines on twitter.
So yesterday September 20 2013 an incident occurred almost directly over my head. About 38,000 feet over my head actually. That is about eleven and a half kilometers - up!
I saw it happen not in the air but on Twitter a short while later. You have probably seen the headlines that 2 Qantas planes almost crashed over Adelaide.
I'd like to tell you how I followed up what had happened and the tools I used to discover the truth.
Flying is safe. Odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11,000,000 compared to 1 in 5,000 in a car. If you are that unlucky also remember that 95.7% of people who are in a plane crash, survive. Much of this is because of the work done to investigate every single incident.
OK this was not a non event but nobody even spilt their coffee. Perhaps a couple of pilots were a little bothered but they did their job perfectly and all worked out well. The flight warning systems TCAS worked perfectly and warned all concerned of the potential for a problem. The ATC, air traffic controller may want a day or two off work, but even the ATC did what needed to be done after what may have been a mistake. Seems the ATC is now on leave as it is investigated.
The story as best I can gather it looks like this.
- QF581 SYD - PER is close to Adelaide at FL380. That is Flight Level 380 or 38,000 feet.
- QF576 is PER - SYD at FL390.
- They are 1000 feet apart vertically which I believe to be the regulation separation.
- Pilots like to change altitude to give the meat in the back a smoother ride whenever possible.
- QF581 wants to go to FL400 and the ATC clears the climb.
- They get close.
- 581 gets to FL383 when the warnings go off and drops back to FL380
- 576 lifts to FL392 now 900 feet apart.
This is a great story but now let me tell you the best bit.
I know all this because of the tools under my fingers all the time.
I saw the twitter notice
I checked the news services and discovered that the plane was soon to land in Perth and all were well so I began to investigate.
What plane from Sydney, a Qantas A330 was soon to land in Perth?
I used an iPad app called Flight Boards to check arrivals in PER and discovered the flight number - QF 581. Then I began my investigation. I launched FlightRadar 24 in a web browser.
I used its time shift feature to look back through traffic over Adelaide that day. I did not know the time the incident happened so it was playing detective. I knew the arrival time in Perth so I tracked back a few hours and began the time shift play back at 2.00 UTC. I ran the play back at 60 times normal so I could get a quick overview of the situation and I zoomed out to see from Ceduna to Mildura to begin my discovery.
I soon saw QF581, then noticed the opposite flight was QF576. I watched them approach and saw the whole incident.
Somewhere over Richmond, Adelaide QF581 turns south a little from its course and the planes pass over the gulf.
I launched QuickTime and created a new screen capture. I selected the area I wanted to record then ran the Flight Radar playback. I trimmed the movie and made it into a 40 second piece to show how air traffic actually does work.
So why write this.
- I was excited with the investigation.
- I knew the whole story long before the sensationalist press got their teeth into it.
- I am a keen follower of the aviation industry.
- I actually like a big Qantas and hate to see them canned.
- I support the amazing work of the ATC and want to do my little bit from my little perspective.
- The world is not ending because an incident occurred.
- And... it is fun.
Hope you enjoy my perspective and the little video.