CF-18 narrowly missed airliner: Austrian pilot
Air force denies jet was 90 metres from civilian plane over Bosnia
06 Sept 01
Passengers on an Austrian airliner got a close call after a Canadian fighter jet almost collided with their civilian plane over Bosnia.
An Austrian Airlines pilot complained that a Canadian CF-18 jet passed within 90 metres of his passenger plane as it was travelling from Vienna to Sarajevo last year, according to a report.
But the Canadian military disputes the Austrian pilot's account and calls the incident a "non event." According to its pilots, the fighters flew a little more than 300 metres above the Austrian Airbus, as is required by international safety standards.
The incident took place last May, when four CF-18s were returning to their base at Aviano, Italy, from a training mission.
The CF-18s had been assigned a particular airspace by NATO officials. But the Austrian airliner had also been cleared by another group of NATO air traffic controllers to descend through the airspace already assigned to the CF-18s. The leader of the CF-18 jets made visual and radar contact with the airliner at around 3.5 nautical miles, according to a summary of the incident obtained under the Access to Information Act.
"The CF-18 closest to the airliner initiated a gentle climb to increase the miss distance, and according to the CF-18 lead, passed approximately 1,000 feet above the Airbus," according to the document, produced in October for Lt.-Gen. Ray Henault, then-deputy chief of the defence staff. Gen. Henault is now chief of the defence staff.
Canadian military commanders at Aviano considered the incident a "non event" and did not file a flight safety report or tell senior officials about it, the report states.
But the Austrian pilot took a different view. He filed a report with international aviation safety officials, noting the alarm system onboard his plane, designed to warn of dangerously close aircraft, was set off by the CF-18's approach. According to the captain, the warning signal indicated one of the CF-18s had a difference in altitude of less than 90 metres from the passenger jet. The airline pilot considered the incident a near miss, according to the report.
The Canadian report blamed the near miss on the failure of the two groups of NATO officials, responsible for the aircraft, to properly co-ordinate with each other.
"Our pilots were not at fault," Capt. James Simiana, a Canadian air force spokesman,said in an interview yesterday.
"They were flying in air space and at an altitude that had been assigned to them. They saw the aircraft approaching them and they took the appropriate action to maintain the necessary separation for safety's sake."
Capt. Simiana said there was never any threat to the passengers on the Austrian airliner.
The incident caused a minor political stir in Bosnia as various factions used the incident to bolster their argument that control over the country's airspace should be in civilian hands and not with NATO.
Previous incidents have shown that even though several kilometres separate aircraft, the speeds of the planes give pilots only seconds to react. In 1998, two U.S. jetliners were four kilometres away from each other before pilots took evasive action to avoid a crash. Federal Aviation Administration officials in the U.S. estimated the two aircraft were eight seconds away from hitting each other. The federal aviation authority blamed that near-collision on the failure of a busy air traffic controller to notice that the two planes were in the same area.