CAA refuses air safety call

A call to fit equipment to prevent collisions between aircraft has been turned down by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) following a report of a near miss over Biggin Hill in Kent on 18 May last year.

The collision was averted only by a quick-thinking air traffic controller. The aircraft came within 200 feet vertically and 1000 feet horizontally, well below safety requirements.

The independent joint air proximity assessment panel, which investigates near misses, recommended yesterday that all aircraft should be fitted with a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) following its finding that a serious risk of collision occurred.

The incident, between two foreign registered aircraft, a Fokker F70 and an Airbus 320, was caused by a pilot responding to an air traffic controller's message intended for another plane. The controller noticed that the A320 had descended to 9,600 feet and, the report said, "with some urgency" told the pilot to climb back.

TCAS warn pilots automatically if their plane is in conflict and tell the pilot to take appropriate evasive action.

Three years ago, The Independent reported that only the presence of TCAS equipment on a Monarch Boeing 757 prevented a collision with another Boeing 757 near Seville in Spain. Following that incident, the CAA commissioned a study into fitting TCAS on all aircraft flying into Britain but rejected the idea because of the expense to British airlines. Three years ago the equipment was made mandatory on all aircraft flying in the US.

Yesterday, the CAA said that the matter was being dealt with at a European level and the fitting of TCAS equipment has a target date of January 2000. However, many pilots and air traffic controllers are angry that the CAA has refused to push for mandatory fitting of equipment in the UK, which has Europe's busiest airspace.

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