Ethiopia and Italian airlines narrowly avoids mid-air collision over Kenya airspace

What would have been the world's worst aviation accident was averted at the last minute as two passenger planes almost collided with each other in the Kenyan airspace last month

The incident involving an Italian leisure airline plane (headed for Zanzibar from Italian city, Verona) and an Ethiopian Airlines plane (travelling from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa) has resulted in
a to and fro blame game by both the Ethiopian and Kenyan aviation bodies.

According to media reports in Kenya, both plane (flying at the same altitude) entered Kenyan airspace at 00:49 hours on Wednesday August 29, with the Italian aircraft having entered from the Ethiopian airspace, while the Ethiopian Airlines from the Tanzania airspace.

Their flight path was headed for a direct collision but for the intervention of the inbuilt Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) onboard the Ethiopian aircraft.

The TCAS which monitor the airspace around an aircraft for other aircraft equipped with an equivalent active transponder alerted the airline crew about the impending mid-air collision forcing the pilot to immediately climb up to 38,000 feet in just a minute (at 00:50 hrs).

The maintained the altitude for five minutes, avoiding a collision.

Kenya's air traffic control officials blamed the incident on a strike action by Ethiopian air traffic controllers which had begun four days earlier.

Kenyan newspaper The EastAfrican quotes a source in the Kenyan aviation sector saying: "The Italian airliner approached and entered the Kenyan airspace from the Westside using 370L but it wasn't informed by the Ethiopian air control that an ET flight was also using the same altitude East side as it crossed over Kenya heading to Addis. This was a serious breach of safety."

It also reports that Kenya Air Traffic Controllers' Association warned that flights going into and out of the Addis Ababa airspace were not safe, the day after.

Peter Ang'awa, the association president was quoted saying "We have seen some eastbound flights coming in with westbound flight levels while some westbound flights have eastbound levels, increasing chances of serious air misses," adding that Ethiopian traffic controllers did not provide proper standard separation in the incident.

But a veteran pilot countered the arguments by Kenyan officials stating that if the planes were in Kenyan airspace, then it was the responsibilty of Kenya's Air Traffic Control (ATC) to guide and warn them that they were going to cross each other's flight path.

"Collison is difficult in this age. Throughout the flight you are under ATC, and you're given ‘separation' so that you don't collide with another plane," he said. "In a situation like last week's, the pilot must react immediately to save the passengers and crew. The passengers would feel the sudden jerk, but at such a point it is not a matter of comfort. It is about avoiding a collision."

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) denied the claims by  Kenyan air controller's. In a statement the body said, "We reject the false and baseless statements circulated by the Kenyan Air Traffickers Controllers Association. Our Area Control Centre in Addis Ababa is being manned by adequate number of well-trained, highly capable instructors and professionals with the necessary ratings and validations in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation Annex 1 provisions. To date, we have not received any complaints by any airlines operating to/from Ethiopia or over flying our airspace," adding that all its air traffic control activities and communications are recorded and protected, and can be verified if need be.

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