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Mid-Air Collision over Britain?

4th April, 2006

A mid-air collision over Britain is becoming increasingly likely. See jottings from Sky 1 programme of Jan 06.

Notes from Sky 1 programme in Jan 06* Airspace over Britain is the busiest in the world.

  • Air traffic controllers are over-stressed.
  • Sioux City 1989 Sioux City, 1989, 111 died, 184 survived
  • Delhi, 1996, 349 died
  • Uberlingen July 2002: 71 died over forest
  • 3 weeks later, 2 routine flights had a near miss by 7 seconds
  • Britain’s last mid-air collision was at Northolt in 1948.
  • Near misses are increasing over Britain
  • Destruction that many people do not understand would result: deaths on ground and in air; burning wreckage falling over wide area, possibly urban.
  • Air traffic set to double by 2020s.
  • On a busy day ATC (Air Traffic Control) responsible for hundreds/thousands movements.
  • Controllers say aircraft travel is definitely seeing increase in near misses. Already, controllers pray that no aircraft will contact them for guidance – overload of logical thinking results in inability of controllors to handle the planes they are dealing with.
  • NATS controls most of the UK sky – public / private partnership. In the last ten years, safety record has improved: 10m flights p.a. without a single event.
  • Future growth will see £1bn investment for increased safety and capacity to take 1m more flights by 2013.
  • But the CAA says 20 near misses in 2005.
  • ATCs concerned about safety. Arrivals and departures travel on the same latitude; i.e. same airway. Real concerns as air traffic increases.
  • Could emergency services cope with the horror of burns and crush injuries, some people thrown from plane, impact speeds of 300mph, 15000 foot plunges with conscious passengers at low altitude, burning wreckage raining down on urban area 4 miles square, aviation fuel fully laden burning across wide area, houses destroyed, cars smashed apart in road, road blockages, total chaos, horrific lacerations, body parts scattered?
  • In Delhi 1996 collision, bodies were unrecognisable.
  • Thousands of articles would need to be recorded.
  • ATCs will now have to meet Govt targets with fines of up to £24m p.a.
  • Targets of stress leading to mistakes.
  • There’s now evidence of overload increase. If it becomes the norm, that’s not sustainable. Something has to give.
  • TACS (auto pilot system) now installed on planes carrying more than 10 people, and on cargo planes. The only way to cope with ATC in future is to take out some of the human element.
  • A lot of vested interests after an air accident would come into play.
  • Very strong case to put ATC in charge of computer. NATS doesn’t agree, saying UK air safety is the best in the world (of course that can change!). Continual increase in demand won’t be met by increased methods.

We should be having a debate about the future of ATC.