By Marlon Dale Ferreira –
SriLankan Airlines, issuing a press release on Wednesday, confirmed that there was no risk to its flight UL 504 flying from London to Colombo colliding midair with a British Airways aircraft recently.
The report further stated that it was due to the vigilance of the pilots and the state-of-the-art communication & surveillance system onboard the aircraft that a safe passage was made after a conversation had taken place between its pilots and Ankara’s Air Traffic Controller regarding a British Airways flight flying 12 nautical miles behind the SriLankan Airline’s aircraft.
This entire flight occurrence was blown completely out of proportion and went viral on many social media platforms after a daily newspaper published an article highlighting the final sentence in the pilot’s submitted Air Incident Report.
The said sentence read “Due to the vigilance and action taken by the crew on UL 504 managed to avert one of the worst midair collisions.”
Majority of the non-flying public hailed the pilots as heroes, whilst many of the global pilot community stated that this was a common but infrequent occurrence that takes place, when aircraft fly at the same flight level in congested airspaces.
This occurence reported in the pilots Air Incident Report in chronological sequence is as follows:
1. Ankara ATC instructs UL 504 to climb from flight level 33,000 feet to flight level 35,000 feet.
2. UL 504 pilots being situationally aware, informs Ankara ATC that a British Airways flight is flying at the same flight level 35,000 feet and that it is positioned 12 nautical miles behind.
3. Ankara ATC says that he cannot detect a British Airways flight on his radar and that the nearest aircraft in the vicinity was within 60 nautical miles of UL 504.
4. UL 504 pilots set the Flight Control Unit to flight level 35,000 but did not initiate the climb.
5. UL 504 pilots observe Ankara ATC speaking to British Airways on the radio frequency.
6. Ankara ATC then confirms to UL 504 that the British Airways aircraft is in fact flying at flight level 35,000 feet and to disregard their earlier instruction and also to continue maintaining its flight level of 33,000 feet.
7. All of the above took place in a span of approximately under two minutes.
An aviation expert speaking to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity and providing his overall understanding and expert opinion on this matter said the following:
“It could be confirmed that even if the SriLankan Airlines flight UL 504 climbed to flight level 35,000 and maintained the same flying altitude as that of the British Airways aircraft which was flying behind, the chances of a midair collision would still have been very remote.
It is true that UL 504 was flying at a speed of 460 nautical miles per hour, whilst the British Airways aircraft was flying at speed 480 nautical miles per hour behind and a tad faster.
Even if both aircraft maintained the same flight speeds, the British Airways aircraft would advance on by half a mile in distance for every minute flown in reaching closer to the SriLankan Airlines flight UL 504.
However, when the BA aircraft reaches a defined point of distance to the SriLankan Airlines aircraft, the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) would have alerted the pilots of both aircraft about the impending danger.
If the pilots of both aircraft still continued on the same path then Resolution Advisory instructions are given to the pilots by their respective warning systems instructing one to climb and the other to descend in order to avoid any collision.
It is at this point that perhaps if at all the said SriLankan Airlines flight UL 504 would have had an issue, as the sudden ascend or descend could have contributed to passengers and crew sustaining injuries.
So factually there was no imminent danger to this particular SriLankan Airlines flight UL 504 encountering a midair collision, as in this day and age with aircraft operating with far superior technological systems, the chances of a midair collision taking place is extremely remote.
However, a note of commendation could be made to the pilots of UL 504 for not blindly following the Ankara ATC instructions but rather for being situationally aware instead of the British Airways aircraft flying at flight level 35,000 feet.
The Ankara ATC’s inability to detect the British Airways aircraft on its radar is a cause of concern.”
Meanwhile a Senior Flight Operations Management Pilot speaking to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity said “The Management of Sri Lankan Airlines was obviously upset when this Air Incident Report was leaked to the media and this inflight occurrence was published. I don’t want to even call it an incident because it was not an incident. These types of situations are faced by pilots, albeit infrequently. That is why pilots are remunerated handsomely to do a responsible job such as this. If the pilots on this flight are to be labelled as heroes, then every pilot needs to be hailed a hero for especially landing the aircraft safely.”
He went on to add “The aircraft was skippered by Capt. Navin De Silva, one of our senior pilots with over 37 years of pilot and management experience and a professional who has also had an unblemished record. This is just the third instance in his entire flying career that an occurrence of this nature has taken place. I can confirm that even he is quite embarrassed at the moment by the unnecessary hype that this entire episode has caused on social media because this type of situation even though it is quite normal is infrequent. Our pilots receive the best possible training available in the business and are trained to reach great levels of competence to encounter such situations.”
Colombo Telegraph can confirm that the said Air Incident Report was in fact written by the First Officer who operated flight UL 504.
The purpose of writing such reports is usually to help authorities conduct investigations and mitigate safety related issues in order to avoid future repetitions.
Therefore, pilots are trained to report facts on such Air Incident Reports, as opposed to stating their opinions and probabilities.
In this particular instance it could be said that it was a combination of both that was documented in the submitted Air Incident Report that eventually stirred up a hornet’s nest, with Sri Lankan Airlines having to now mend a couple of professional bridges with both British Airways and the also the Civil Aviation Authority of Turkey.