Friday, January 30, 2015

Air safety issues in Australia, and UAP


Since the 1950's, aircraft pilots in Australia have periodically reported observations of unidentified aerial phenomena  (UAP.)  My catalogue of the more interesting UAP reports from Australia ( click here) contains dozens of such reports, including the following two from 1997.

28 September 1997 Jacobs Well, Queensland 2359hrs
Pilot Rob Hill and passenger were flying between Brisbane and Lismore in a helicopter when they sighted an unusual object, with three lights on it, spaced evenly along its side. It tilted like an aircraft banking, and disappeared. Brisbane air traffic control advised him that there was no other traffic in the area. (The Northern Star newspaper, 3 October 1997.)

1 December 1997 Kangaroo Island, South Australia 2330hrs
Mr Kym Koch, flying at 4000 feet between Adelaide and Kingscote reported seeing an object low on the horizon. He described it as a very bright, round, orange coloured object at 20 degrees elevation. He was then contacted by Adelaide approach radar who told him they had received a report from Kangaroo Island Police about the same object. A police officer had been watching it for 9 minutes as it travelled westwards. It was also reported that it was detected by radar. (Channel 7 news, and Sunday Mail newspaper 7 December 1997.)

Observations versus air safety issues:

Most of the reports from pilots, are simply observations of something they considered unusual, similar to many such visual observations from the ground. However, a number of the reports represent a potential air safety issue, where they appears to be the possibility of a near-miss or a collision. Examples of this are:

19 March 2014 Perth, Western Australia 0913hrs
A Skippers aviation aircraft with passengers onboard was about to land at Perth international airport, when the crew sighted an approaching object. A green coloured, cylindrical object passed the aircraft at close range, after the command pilot changed course to avoid what he thought would be a collision. The full report on this event may be read here.

30 August 1975 Off Townsville, Queensland 1233z
The crew of a RAAF Neptune patrol aircraft were flying at 3000 feet. A group of three white/yellow lights approached the aircraft, and the pilot made a left turn to avoid what he believed to be an imminent mid-air collision. Click here to read my full report.

Australian aviation authorities:

In Australia there are three separate agencies involved at government level. These are:

1. Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Click here for their website.
2. Australian Transport Safety Bureau. For their website click here.
3. Air Services Australia. Click here to read about them.

2010 - who receives reports of possible UAP?

In 2010 I submitted Freedom of Information requests to all three agencies asking them for any documents they held on the subject of "unidentified flying objects." I received responses from all three agencies. CASA essentially said they held no such documents. The ATSB and ASA provided an amount of documentation. I reported on their responses in a series of blog posts,  ATSB click here; ASA click here.

2015 - ask again

This year, Melbourne colleague, Paul Dean, wrote to Air Services Australia under the FOI Act and asked them for documents concerning:

“….any incidences where flight crews have reported any:
1) Unusual, Unknown, or Unidentifiable Aircraft or Objects;
2) Suspected Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles;
3) Meteoric Events, fireballs and the like;
4) Especially unusual weather phenomenon;
which are held on ESIR or CIRRIS database(s)."

The ASA searched their database and retrieved 13 pilot and ATC reports, fitting Paul's request.

The documents:

Some of the ASA reports have mundane observations, for example:

ATS-0071534 26 October 2008 7:44 Canberra tower.

At approximately 0744 z, 3 large black objects were
observed rising from the vicinity of Mt Mugga,
ascending and drifting south. Probably home made
hot air ballons using black plastic and a flame
source at the base. 2 RPT acft on final RWY 35 were
advised about the objects and that tower
considered the objects to be far enough west of
final to not impinge on their approach to land. One
of the objects then caught fire and disappeared,
whilst the other 2 continued to climb and drift to
the south east across final for RWY 35. QFA805 was
vectored to the west of final for a rejoin from the
west to avoid the objects. Objects last sighted
about 6 nm to south east of Canberra around 3000 to
5000 feet


ATS-0072538 4 December 2008 9:35 Cairns Tower
Unidentified lights, believed to be floating lanterns,
released from one of the beaches (assumed to be
Holloways or Machans Beaches) . 2 lots of 3
'lanterns' released 10 mins apart, and floated up
just east of final. Qld police notified. Qld police also
received public reports of same. All relevant
aircraft on final notified.

Three of the ASA observations are of more interest. These are:
ATS-0075593 10 April 2009 1:53 TOPS
ANO332 tracking DN‐KU on descent, reported an
'airprox' with an unknown aircraft approximately
opposite direction, at approximately A090.
Subsequent questioning of the crew elicited that
the aircraft was observed approximately 3‐4 NM
east of the flight planned track and followed on
TCAS, but there was no RA, nor was the aircraft
sighted. Weather conditions were VMC. ANO332
reported unable to raise the aircraft on VHF.ATS
surveillance is not available in this part of the
airspace so the report was unable to be
corroborated by ATC. No flights matching the aircraft 
were known to the ATS system.

ATS-0098025 26 September 2012 2:11 Sydney TMA
TGW581 reported a red cylindrical object passing
the aircraft in the opposite direction when climbing
through FL200 aproximately 20 nm miles south of

ATS-0126807 26 January 2014 23:19 Adelaide TMA
At 2315Z TGW484, inbound on the ALEXI 05V STAR
reported having traffic at 12 o'clock, 5NM. AAE
reported there was no observed traffic in that
vicinity. TGW484 then requested a turn onto
heading 210. TGW484 then reported the traffic in
their right, 3 o'clock 2.5 NM "visual", and were
turning back for the VSA. TGW484 then asked if
AAE had the traffic on radar, 3' o'clock at 4NM. AAE
replied they had an A320 past the 3 o'clock at
6.8NM. AAE confirmed whether that was the traffic
they had reported, which TGW reported they were
not sure, they had had traffic showing 2.5 NM
same level. Shortly after JST774 following TGW
reported TCAS showing something at BATIP,
"hovering" at A020, which then disappeared.

Paul has now submitted a further FOI request to ASA asking for any further documents they hold about three specific observations provided by them in response to Paul's initial FOI request. It will be interesting to see what emerges.

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