Thu, Dec 13, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Air control tower to blame for `close call' in Taitung

'TERRIFIED' Control tower operators informed fighter aircraft pilots that a civilian aircraft was taking off, but failed to inform the Daily Air pilot of the descending F-5s

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Civil Aeronautics Administra-tion (CAA) admitted yesterday that air-traffic control center employees at Taitung Airport had mishandled an incident last month, in which they failed to inform Daily Air (德安航空) pilots of approaching military aircraft.

The incident was exposed in an article in the Chinese-language United Daily News published yesterday.

In response, CAA director general Billy Chang (張國政) said yesterday that the six F-5 aircraft were returning from Hualien to Taitung and the pilots had requested clearance to do an overhead maneuver, in which the planes would descend to an altitude of 457m.

The request was approved by the control center, Chang said.

Overhead maneuvers are generally carried out by air force pilots, where the aircraft flies at low altitude above a runway before pulling up.

Around the same time the request was being made, however, a Daily Air flight was taking off, Chang said.

He said that in the case in question there would have been no safety concerns as the military aircraft were operating at an altitude of 610m while the civilian aircraft was maintaining an altitude of 305m.

Chang said the control tower employees in charge of the radar system informed the military aircraft twice of the presence of a civilian aircraft.

They failed, however, to inform the pilots on board the Daily Air aircraft of the descending military aircraft.

Chang said the Daily Air flight was being commanded by the co-pilot, who could clearly see the military aircraft.

He said the co-pilot was "terrified" to see a military aircraft coming so close to his plane.

Chang said the administration must thoroughly review the incident, but refused to say if any of the employees would be reprimanded.

Chang also said the reason the incident, which occurred last month, was only reported yesterday was due to the fact that nothing had happened and therefore there was no urgency in it being made public.

The control tower had a new employee in its ranks, who may not have had the necessary experience to handle this kind of situation, he said.

There should nevertheless have been senior operators present to supervise the new employee, he said.

An Air Force official yesterday said the incident could have been avoided if the control tower had made more room for both aircraft.

According to regulations, the distance between two aircraft must at all times be more than 300m.

However, the distance between the fighter aircraft and the passenger plane was only 150m, Major General Liu Chen-wu (劉震武), chief of staff of the Air Force, told the legislature during yesterday's National Defense Committee.

Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang

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