Thursday, March 5, 2015

Air Force takes flight safety seriously

Thr U.S. Air Force says it operates within the flight safety norms and will look into the reported near collision incident that purportedly involved a military aircraft and a Star Marianas Air plane.

U.S. Pacific Air Forces Director of Public Affairs Col. David W. Honchul told Variety yesterday, “The Air Force takes safety of flight very seriously, and fully cooperates with all authorities when questions arise.”

A near collision is defined as an incident associated with the operation of an aircraft in which a possibility of collision occurs as a result of proximity of less than 500 feet to another aircraft.

“As for the evening of Feb. 25, two C-130s departed Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, at 5:30 p.m., and were in the vicinity of Tinian at approximately 6 p.m. The pilots flying those aircraft followed established radio procedures in contacting both Common Traffic Advisory Frequency and the Saipan Tower. This included the required calls for clearance to transit the airspace in question,” he said.

Honchul said the C-130 crewmembers were aware of the general aviation traffic at all times both visually and through the onboard Traffic Collision Advisory System or TCAS.

“The Airmen remained visually clear of the traffic, maintaining at least a one mile lateral separation, in accordance with Visual Flight Rules. At no time did the TCAS indicate a hazardous situation,” he said.

Honchul said standard aviation practice dictates that when there is a question of flight safety, an aircrew files a Hazardous Air Traffic Report or HATR with the Federal Aviation Administration for further investigation.

“Our crews did not file a report, believing the transit was conducted in a safe manner,” he said.

As of yesterday, Colonel Honchul said the FAA on Guam had not given the U.S. Air Force any indications that a HATR had been filed by others.

“Should one be filed, we will fully support them in their investigation,” he said.

Governor requested to be informed

Meanwhile, yesterday, Governor Eloy S. Inos had asked to be briefed on the incident.

“I have requested to receive as soon as possible a written explanation and copies of any reports available regarding the Near Mid-Air Collisions (NMAC) reported Tuesday. I was informed Tuesday afternoon that the Joint Region Marianas (JRM) Range Complex Operations personnel were working on the necessary reports and would expect to receive the information as soon as it becomes available.”

Governor Inos said that he was “surprised like everyone else” upon reading the news account of the NMAC.

He said, “It is my hope that if a similar such incident should ever occur in the future, I would appreciate being informed of such an incident in advance instead of reading about in the newspaper."

Variety learned that the NMAC reporting program provides information that can be used to enhance safety and efficiency in the National Airspace System.

FAA use data culled from the NMAC reports to improve the quality of services.

All NMAC reports are thoroughly investigated by Flight Standards Facilities in coordination with Air Traffic Facilities.

Data are transmitted to FAA Washington, D.C. where these data are analyzed and compiled and where safety programs and recommendations are developed.

Further dialogue with military

Star Marianas Air Inc. president Shaun Christian sees a silver lining following this incident.

He said, “Since there is no radar coverage at the Saipan and Tinian Airports, we feel it is important to use this experience as an opportunity to open a constructive dialog with the military so that we can better coordinate their activities to ensure they are properly de-conflicted with civilian traffic to ensure the safety of all aircraft operating in the NMI. This is especially important as the number of civilian aircraft flights operating between Saipan and Tinian continue to increase.”

Christian said Star Marianas Air averages more than 137 flights per day.

He anticipates that this will grow as Tinian develops further.

Moreover, Christian told Variety there was a similar incident on Rota recently; however, this did not fall within the definition of near mid-air collision.

“We did encounter a few other operational occurrences during the most recent military exercise that included another C-130 operating in close proximity to our aircraft without making radio announcements on the civilian Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF). The distance between the aircraft did not fall into the category of a near mid-air collision, but it certainly got our pilot’s attention.”

The most recent military exercise was the multilateral annual exercise Cope North which involved the participation of the U.S. Air Force, Philippine Air Force, Japan Self Defense Force, Korean Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Christian himself had encountered a similar incident.

“I also personally had an occurrence in Rota a few weeks ago where an Australian C-130 entered the active runway while I was on approach to landing without making any radio announcements or checking for any traffic in the flight pattern resulting in me having to go around,” he said.

He clarified, however, that there was no violation of any regulations as Rota’s airport is “uncontrolled” and technically aircraft not equipped with radios are allowed to operate from the airport without making any communications.

Christian said the standard operating procedure “is that if you have a radio, you check for traffic in the pattern before taxiing onto a runway.”

Pilots transmits report to FAA, Senator Hofschneider, Flight Standards District Office, FAA Air Traffic Supervisor

In his report transmitted to the authorities, the Star Marianas Air pilot stated that the incident occurred during a flight on Wednesday afternoon around 5 p.m.

“I was flying passengers in one of our twin engine aircraft and was about 1 mile off shore coming across the channel toward Tinian, south of the approach to runway 7’s ILS into Saipan. I was at 1500 feet which is the standard altitude and routing flown by all Star Marianas aircraft per our FAA approved procedures and was still in the Saipan tower’s airspace.”

He said it was in the Delta airspace.

While in this airspace, he spotted a C-130 coming directly at the plane coming from the North Field at the same altitude and within the Delta airspace.

“The aircraft was being followed by another C-130 which was slightly off the lead C-130’s left wing and both had nose high altitude and were climbing in my direction; directly through the standard altitude and routing that is flown by all inter-island aircraft,” the pilot’s report read.

The pilot said he called the tower to report that the C-130 was coming at him within about 300 feet and inquired whether the tower knew of the aircraft beign there.

The pilot said the tower had not known that the aircraft had just called the tower.

Meanwhile, Christian told Variety yesterday that their pilot has been in contact with FAA in Renton, Washington office.

He said it was verified after reviewing the Saipan tower tapes that the C-130 was communicating with Saipan tower at the same time the pilot reported the close encounter, on a military band UHF channel that is not able to be heard by civilian aircraft which utilize VHF radio frequencies.

Variety learned that military aircraft more often use UHF frequencies which civilian aircraft don’t have.

“We understand that they are currently looking into the occurrence, but we do not have any details as to what their investigation will entail,” added Christian.

Meanwhile, the pilot recommends that the military aircraft should refrain “from climbing through the standard civilian flight path between the islands.”

He recommended that altitude should be kept at or below 500 feet until cleared of the standard routing.

The military is also asked to use VHF frequencies.

Original article can be found at:  http://www.mvariety.com

A formation of Japan Self-Defense Force, U.S. Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft fly over North Field, Tinian, Marianna Islands, during Cope North 15, February 26, 2015. 
 Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson

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