South African investigators have disclosed that a CemAir Bombardier CRJ200 registration ZS-CMG took-off from George airport before the control tower opened, despite being aware of an inbound Airlink Embraer ERJ-135 registration ZS-ALJ on approach to the same runway from the opposite direction.
A preliminary report by the South Africa Civil Aviation Authority which classified the 23rd August incident as “serious ” found that the airport’s tower and approach control centres also opened at different times, 15 minutes apart.
A CemAir Bombardier jet carrying 38 passengers and three crew to Johannesburg was informed by the approach control that the tower frequency would be opening within 2 mins and an aircraft was inbound from the opposite direction within the next 7 min.
But despite the call to hold position, the CRJ captain replied that the flight was ready for immediate departure and would follow the unmanned procedure to takeoff from runway 29, and turn left over the sea. The captain broadcast an advisory on this departure over the approach frequency.
Thirteen seconds after the CemAir pilot said he was about to take off, an approach controller ordered an Airlink Embraer jet to stop its descent at 8,000ft and turned the aircraft to the south, off its approach path, so that it could avoid the bombardier.
Airlink was carrying 28 passengers and three crew and was then re-aligned for visual approach to runway 11 soon after the Bombardier CRJ climbed away.
The report said: “It is recommended in the interest of aviation safety that the tower and approach control stations at FAGG [George airport] open at the same time.
“The rationale as to why the two stations opened at different times could not be determined with certainty but posed a serious safety implication on the operations at the aerodrome, which resulted in this serious incident.”
The serious incident report suggested this would eliminate a daily issue involving the Cemair and Airlink flights involved in the August 23 drama on the 2,000m runway which is numbered 11 in one direction and 29 in the other.
“The aerodrome departure schedule indicated that flight KEM125 (the Cemair flight to Johannesburg) departs FAGG at 5.45am from Monday to Friday, and Link621 [the Airlink flight) departs [Cape Town] at 5.15am and arrives at [George] any time between 5.45am and 6am.”
Despite this, said the report, approach control and air traffic controllers started work at different times for several months.
“[The CemAir flight crew] was well aware of the [June 16] Notam but did not wait for the tower to open even after they were informed by approach control of the situation with Link621,” the report said.
The investigators have yet to reach formal conclusion on the incident. None of the 41 passengers and crew aboard the CRJ or the 31 occupants on the ERJ-135 was injured.
By Victor Shalton Odhiambo