"Yahoo! Hong Kong - News Hong Kong Friday, August 11 8:34 AM SGT
"Jet safety scare off Lantau"
Two aircraft with almost 300 people aboard came within seconds of each other off Lantau, forcing at least one to change course, it emerged yesterday.
An almost-full Dragonair flight taking off for Beijing came within 170 metres of a China Southern Airlines jet heading for Guangzhou at about 7.30pm on Tuesday.
The pilots could each see the other aircraft through their windows, and alarms sounding in the cockpits - the last line of defence against a crash after two alerts have gone off on the ground - signalled that the planes were no more than 40 seconds from each other.
Two air traffic controllers on duty at Chek Lap Kok at the time had been taken off the job while the incident was investigated, the Civil Aviation Department said last night. An aviation source told the Post that a controller with limited experience was being trained at the time. The department refused to comment on this.
The incident was the second of its kind over Hong Kong this year. In January, a Dragonair flight arriving from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, changed course as it passed within a height of 274 metres of a SilkAir plane travelling in the opposite direction. Tuesday's incident was even closer - the planes were separated by a height of 167 metres, half of the 333-metre minimum required for safety.
Dragonair said Tuesday's flight KA904, an Airbus 321, had 188 passengers and nine crew on board when the Traffic Collision Avoidance System alarm went off in the cockpit.
The alarm, which only works if both aircraft are fitted with the system, first sounds when planes are within 40 seconds of each other and warns pilots to immediately change course. The system is part of a plane's radar warning system. Two levels of alarm will usually go off in air traffic control on the ground before the plane alarm kicks in.
The jets were 20km south-southwest of Chek Lap Kok, and were at about 3,300 metres.
Dragonair said last night: "The captain responded by taking appropriate action in line with operational procedure and the Airbus 321 aircraft continued its journey to Beijing without incident." A spokeswoman refused to comment on the potential safety threat.
A China Southern spokesman said flight 320 to Guangzhou, a Boeing 757 with about 80 passengers and 10 crew on board, was still climbing "a couple of minutes after take-off" when the incident occurred. He refused to say whether the pilot took evasive action to avoid a collision, saying it would be inappropriate to comment before an official investigation had been completed.
"China Southern recognises that there was a conflict. Most of these conflicts are some mistake by the pilots or air traffic control . . . I can't say how dangerous it was. I don't think it was very serious but all this should be [discussed] after the investigation."
A Civil Aviation spokeswoman said the incident was under scrutiny and it was not appropriate to speculate about the cause. "At their closest, the vertical distance between the two aircraft was 500 feet [167 metres] instead of the standard separation of 1,000 feet. Both pilots had the other aircraft in sight. The two air traffic controllers involved have been withdrawn from operational duties . . . safety was not compromised."
Hmmmm. Two in one year. Is that abnormal or does it just get reported more in HK?