Passenger jets within 100ft of colliding

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Two British passenger planes came within around 100ft of colliding with each other while an air traffic controller was supervising a trainee, a report found today.

The near–miss at Heathrow Airport in April last year saw an incoming British Airways Boeing 747 come within moments of a British Midland Airbus A321 waiting to take off.

A 28–year–old female air traffic control trainee was controlling take–offs on the runway at the time, under the supervision of a mentor, according to a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

The British Midland plane was still on the runway for take–off when the British Airways plane was instructed to go round it at a late stage, the report said.

During this procedure, the British Airways plane performing the go–around was estimated to have come within 112ft of the British Midland plane.

The crew in the British Midland plane saw the British Airways aircraft over fly, the report said, and told the air traffic controller they would be submitting a report.

The mentor and trainee were relieved from duty five minutes after the incident.

The report said no criticism could be made of the trainee's performance during the near miss.

But it said her mentor, a 35–year–old man, had allowed the situation to develop to the point where the British Airways plane could not be "safely integrated" with the departure of the British Midland plane.

When the situation became apparent, his initial actions, on taking control of the radio communications, were inappropriate, the report found.

The mentor had been selected as an on–the–job training instructor in 1999 but had said he did not particularly enjoy his job, the report said.

He had been involved in an incident in April 1999, in which he cleared a Boeing 757 to cross the runway in front of a Boeing 747, the report said.

The situation was resolved after the pilot of the departing aircraft queried his clearance.

The system for selecting on–the–job training instructors at Heathrow was flawed at the time of the incident but has subsequently been revised.

The company procedure on the use of strobe lights further meant that the British Midland plane was not as visible as it could be on the runway, the report found.

It recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority should issue instructions requiring UK registered aircraft to use strobe lights, if fitted, when on an active runway in the UK.

The CAA should also ensure an adequate level of formal briefing and debriefing for student controllers and on–the–job training instructors should also be selected using formal systems.