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Sensationalism much, CNN?

I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about aviation. I took a flight lesson last year, courtesy of my wife, and I’ve since been a member of AOPA. I’ve also read up on aviation and looked at some flight instruction videos. I hope to work for and get a pilot’s license when I graduate. But I know enough to tell that this story from CNN is full of it.

The story claims that two 747 jets had a “near collision” in the skies over Scotland. Now, if you hear “near collision”, you’d probably think that the two jets came seconds away from crashing into each other and only meters (it’s Scotland, they use metric) away from each other. They even mention that the planes were “100 feet away” from each other, and then they say the magic word: “Vertically.”

The two planes were three miles form each other horizontally and 100 feet vertically. Meaning that one plane was here, and the other plane was three miles away, over there, and 100 feet higher than the first plane. But that wouldn’t sell the story or get them clicks, would it?

Anyway, here’s the video. It reeks of stupid.

[do action=”credit”]Featured image credit: caribb / / CC BY-NC-ND[/do]

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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3 replies

  1. Well, at one point the aircraft *were* only 1.5 miles apart, with 100 feet of vertical separation.
    Sounds like a lot, but consider that altitude varies by more than a few feet with wind and velocity causing a bit of drift. Add in the size of the aircraft, that 100 feet isn’t very comfortable.
    Add in 1.5 miles, it depends then on their course. If it’s head on, that’s about 3-5 seconds at best. On a converging course, a lot longer (it’s straight trigonometry to figure the vectors out, but I’m feeling lazy tonight).
    The systems in the aircraft did what they were supposed to do, alert the pilots of a potential collision, the pilots did what they were supposed to do (after both pilots misinterpreted directions from ATC).
    Funny how the attorney claims it was a collision without a collision and that the *aircraft* avoided collision. The system changed altitude, the pilots did what they should have done and not interfere with the safety system.

    The big deals of the story are:
    1: The aircraft were half of the minimum distance from one another.
    2: The pilots didn’t follow procedure in ensuring their full callsign was in use between ATC and themselves.
    3: ATC didn’t follow procedure in ensuring the full callsigns of the aircraft were in use for each aircraft.
    40-50 years ago, this could have been a very different story. One involving it raining burning aircraft components and passengers from two aircraft.
    Today, it’s a story that is really about not following procedures, but our automation prevented multiple human errors from being a potential disaster.

    With an attorney punching it up a lot and the reporter happily following along.

    But, one thing is certain. This won’t result in a simple NOTAM, this will end up being mandatory training in procedures for both ATC and pilots, as this never should have happened and would not have happened if both ATC and the pilots adhered to and insisted on adhering to standard procedures.
    So, score zero for ATC, a half point for each pilot for not overriding their safety systems an a win for the engineers who designed the safety systems in response to mid-air collisions in the past.


  2. I have a *close* family member who was in-house counsel for a large international airline and I’ve heard airline talk for years, including the development of the first TCAS systems:

    I believe that the latest reports out of Scotland from people who have read the official report, states that the 4 pilots in the two cockpits of the planes confused the ATC’s instructions given to the two pilots on the other plane for the ATC’s instructions for their flight path. I’d love to hear the actual ATC’s instructions. (Have you ever heard a Scottish burr?) 🙂

    (Anecdotal) About 15 years ago, that same *close* family member made a one-day business trip to Chicago, on a round trip ticket to and from LaGuardia Airport. Shortly before he was due home, I received a phone call from him, with sirens blaring in the background. I was grateful he was not injured, but my next thought was that my 2-month-old car was in a collision…it wasn’t…but the plane he was on, made an emergency landing on its belly. The landing gear failed to go down and the flight was diverted to JFK with its longer runways.

    He described the experience of taking the crash position (head bent over between his legs…the better position to kiss your a$$ good-bye), the rocky landing in foam, the sliding down the chute sans shoes and his briefcase and the stewardess at the bottom of the evacuation chute yelling “Run, Run…into the field adjacent to the runway.

    That night, I did a little surgery on the soles of his feet…removing what appeared to be bits of cactus (yes, we have cactus in open fields in New York), by using sterilized-in-vodka sewing needles and tweezers to pull out those sharp bits.

    The next day we drove to LaGuardia to pick up my car and then to JFK to pick up his shoes, briefcase and suit jacket.


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