A trainee air traffic controller with “only a little experience of this type of scenario” was working at the time of a near miss involving a Flybe aircraft, according to an official report.
The incident involving the 78-seat Dash 8 aircraft occurred on July 15 when the trainee was supervising a flight from Norwich to Exeter as it made its second runway approach to land.
The first approach had been abandoned because of “conflicting unknown traffic”.
The second aircraft – a small propeller-driven Mooney M20 private plane – bound for the Channel Islands appeared on radar with no information about its altitude.
The Flybe aircraft was told to “go around” by climbing to 3,000ft and turning right, according to a report published by the UK Airprox Board.
At one point the controller said: “Don’t know what it [the second plane] is… er, I’m not sure which way to go now, er, probably left left if you can accept that now.”
However, it became clear that the M20 was only 300ft below, with a distance of one and a quarter nautical miles between them.
The private aircraft had not communicated with Exeter airport as the pilot had been told to contact London to activate his flight plan.
However, London air traffic controllers were “busy” and “it took longer than anticipated to speak with them”.
The trainee was quickly relieved by a trainer with years of experience as both a controller and an instructor at Exeter airport.
The report said: “The controller… said something like, ‘I’m not sure what heading to turn you on to.’ Another voice, presumably the supervisor, said, ‘Turn left to 180.’ They turned, continued the climb and the transition altitude cleared.”
The report added: “It was quickly agreed that the incident occurred because the Exeter controller, who was providing a deconfliction service and could see the M20 on his radar display, had nonetheless continued to vector the [Flybe flight] into conflict with it.”
Although safety had been put at risk, the action taken by the instructor removed the possibility of a collision and the incident was ultimately assessed as category C, one of the lowest risk rankings.
A spokesman for Exeter airport told The Times that he was unable to comment on behalf of the strict Civil Aviation Authority training regime undertaken by trainees.
He said: “As outlined in the report, the aircraft were well separated and the action taken removed the possibility of a collision. This report offers valuable feedback which will be used to further enhance our safety culture.”
Flybe chief operations officer Luke Farajallah said: “The airline industry operates under the strictest of regulatory regimes, which is why aviation remains the safest of all forms of public transport.”
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