A glitch in the radar controller’s satellite transmission, which is used to communicate aircraft location to air navigators, led to the recent close shave between two flights — a Seychelles-bound Etihad flight and an Emirates flight heading to Dubai — that were carrying 400 passengers in Mumbai airspace, according to the probe by the Indian aviation regulator.
On March 29, a Mumbai air traffic controller asked the Etihad flight to climb 36,000 feet, without the knowledge that the Emirates plane was on the same flight level in the opposite direction. Almost set for a head-on collision, the flights changed course after the anti-collision alert rang inside both the cockpits, when the planes were merely 25 seconds away from each other, stated the probe report.
The error occurred as the last update from the automatic dependent surveillance (ADS) broadcast, which informs ATC officials about aircraft location, got deleted from system. The ADS is the most reliable system to track flight movement in the oceanic airspace, which is beyond the radar coverage. The report also stated the Etihad flight (EY622) was approximately 150 nautical miles away from the location assumed by the radar controller. “It is not clear how the ADS output went missing from the system. We will question the manufacturers,” said a senior DGCA official from the Delhi headquarters.
An Emirates Airlines spokesperson said, “Emirates can confirm that flight EK 706 from Seychelles to Dubai was involved in an air traffic control incident. At no point was the aircraft, passengers or crew at risk.”
“Etihad Airways confirms that it is investigating a reported incident involving one of our aircraft, which was en route to the Seychelles. Safety is Etihad Airways’ number one priority,” an Etihad spokesperson said.
Investigators claimed the ATC had been callous in its traffic monitoring preparedness. “The traffic on the stretch has increased by around 60 flights, since the closure of the Yemeni airspace. The ATC should have been better prepared for such emergencies,” said a senior AAI official, adding the Mumbai ATC has put two additional controllers on duty after the incident.