Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Air Malta B737 has near collision with micro-light

Air Malta Boeing 737Several days ago, an Air Malta Boeing 737-300 narrowly avoided a mid-air collision with a micro-light aircraft near Malta International Airport. Air Malta Flight KM613, which had originated in Rome, was on approach to Malta early on the afternoon of April 21, 2007 when the incident occurred. The pilot of the Air Malta plane had to take evasive action to avoid colliding with the smaller aircraft. Fortunately no one was injured.

Air Malta published a brief news release about the incident on their website. It says:
On 21st April at approximately 1330 hours, Air Malta flight KM613 operated with a Boeing 737-300 was given clearance by the Maltese Air Traffic Control to land on Runway 14. At an altitude of 1300 feet, the aircraft made visual contact with the runway and shortly after the cockpit crew noticed a micro-light aircraft just ahead of them.

The captain decided to take avoidance action and to abort the approach. The Air Malta aircraft made a normal landing at Malta International Airport, with a five minute delay.

Air Malta has reported the incident to the Director of Civil Aviation, who we understand is conducting a technical investigation on the matter.
A news article about the incident in the Times of Malta filled in a few details, saying that the small aircraft "suddenly appeared out of nowhere."
The small aircraft was not equipped with a transponder and, consequently, the Air Malta pilots could not spot the impending danger on the traffic-collision avoidance system.

Passengers on the left side of the aircraft noticed the close proximity of the small plane but most of them remained oblivious to what was going on.

A 38-year old passenger who was on board the flight was shocked as he looked out of the window.

"I had just spotted the Mosta church from the window seat and suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw a small blue plane alarmingly close.

"Our pilot's manoeuvre was excellent and it probably saved the day," said the passenger, who preferred to remain unnamed.
The Times of Malta story also said that the light aircraft, which was registered in Italy, had departed from Gela, Sicily. It landed in Malta after the incident.
Though tragedy was avoided, many questions remain about the Italian aircraft's unwelcome presence. Probed by the local authorities, the pilot claimed he pertained to a humanitarian NGO and was on patrol near Lampedusa for illegal immigrants. However, observers in the aviation industry wondered whether such an operation could have really taken place in bad weather and visibility, as was the case last Saturday.

The pilot had permission only to use Malta as a secondary landing air ground and claimed he had landed here because the aircraft had run out of fuel.

When contacted, Joe Sultana, director of the Civil Aviation Department, confirmed that the Italian aircraft was flying at a very low altitude and, thus, could not be seen by radar.

Asked whether the aircraft had clearance to land in Malta, Mr Sultana replied:

"As such, it didn't have clearance since it didn't communicate with the air traffic control. The pilot didn't communicate because he didn't have the correct information. The aircraft was short of fuel and it had to proceed."
Another news story published by the Malta Independent quoted an airport official who explained that the pilot of the micro-light had made several attempts to establish contact with the Maltese air traffic authorities to request permission for an emergency landing, but to no avail. He did not have the correct radio frequencies with which to contact air traffic control in Malta.

The micro-light left Malta after several hours, presumably returning to Italy. Let's hope the owners install a transponder in that micro-light before it ventures aloft again.

[Photo Source]