The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has just released its final report into a 2020 incident involving a Dash-8 Q400 flying for QantasLink and a smaller aircraft. The Dash-8 entered and taxied along a runway at Gladstone in Queensland unaware another aircraft was nearby. That forced an approaching Faeta 321 to conduct a go-around to avoid an incident on the runway.
QantasLink pilots set incorrect common traffic advisory frequency
There’s no local air traffic control tower at Gladstone Airport, a small city around 500 kilometers north of Brisbane. The Dash-8 was operating a scheduled early morning service down to Brisbane. On the manifest were 34 passengers, including a prisoner and his police escort.
The ATSB investigation found the Dash-8 pilots set the incorrect common traffic advisory frequency. Further, they did not select the appropriate traffic collision avoidance system/transponder mode during the before start checks. The ATSB partly attributed this to an increased workload and time pressures experienced during before start preparations.
Consequently, the ATSB report found the pilot’s situational awareness was ‘degraded.’ They incorrectly thought no other aircraft were around Gladstone Airport. This was despite the First Officer “mentally noting” the Faeta 321 taxiing as he conducted his walk around. The small plane was on a training flight with one instructor and student onboard.
Pilots monitor and broadcast on an incorrect frequency
The student pilot in the Faeta 8279 was using the correct common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). He made a broadcast advising traffic that the aircraft would be changing runway direction for a touch-and-go on runway 10. The Captain and First Officer of the QantasLink flight did not receive this broadcast as they were monitoring the incorrect frequency.
One minute later, the QantasLink First Officer broadcasted the incorrect CTAF, and the Dash-8 taxied from its parked position.
The QantasLink pilots conducted a visual scan as their aircraft neared the A5 intersection at Gladstone. However, neither flight crew sighted Faeta 8279 on approach for runway 10. The Dash-8 then taxied onto the runway in front of the approaching Faeta 8279. The approaching Faeta 8279 then commenced a go-around.
After making a taxi report to Brisbane Control, the QantasLink Captain established the TCAS/transponder was incorrectly set. The two pilots were then made aware the training flight was above their Dash-8. They subsequently made visual contact with the Faeta 8279 and corrected their frequency. The QantasLink pilots were then able to establish contact with the Faeta 8279.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau findings
The QantasLink Dash-8 took off for Brisbane, and the student pilot landed safely in Gladstone. In their investigation, the ATSB found;
“The combination of increased workload and time pressures is known to result in degraded information processing, increased errors, the tunneling of attention, and an increased reliance on familiar strategies or actions. This response to workload and time pressures likely resulted in the flight crew’s omission of the two ‘before start’ checklist items and the selection of the incorrect frequency.
“The frequency selection error was further compounded by the flight crew not recognizing an absence of AFRU reply when making radio calls on the incorrect frequency. As a result, the captain and FO were unaware that they were monitoring and broadcasting on the incorrect CTAF.
“The flight crew’s inadvertent omission of the TCAS/transponder selection resulted in the captain and FO incorrectly believing the TCAS would alert them to the presence of any transponder-equipped aircraft that were operating in the vicinity of Gladstone Airport.”
QantasLink response to the incident
In response, QantasLink has conducted a review of operating procedures at non-controlled airports. The review included transponder activation and introduced a requirement to contact Air Traffic Control before entering the runway. QantasLink also reminded pilots of the importance of standard operating procedures and threat management when dealing with distractions and workload.