Airservices Australia has introduced new procedures to better manage the separation of commercial traffic and parachutists around RAAF Richmond, near Sydney, following a loss of separation incident involving a Virgin Australia Boeing 737 in 2011.
On 5 November, a CASA 212, registered as VH-MQD and operated by Military Support Services, was conducting parachuting operations at RAAF Richmond for the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said in its report on the incident.
At the same time as the C212 was conducting a parachute jump, a Virgin Australia 737-700 – registered as VH-VBP – operating a flight from Sydney to Cairns was cleared by air traffic control (ATC) to track via Richmond at 10,000ft (3,050m), underneath the C212 at 12,000ft.
At the time the 737 was transiting the area, a group of paratroopers had just exited the C212. The last paratrooper out of the aircraft reported that about 10s after exiting, they were at the same altitude and about 2,000m from the Virgin 737.
Upon seeing the paratroopers in freefall, the crew of the 737 took evasive action to “limit their aircraft’s proximity” to the parachutists, says the ATSB.
The ATSB found in its investigation that there was no documented procedure for assuring the separation of parachute operations at Richmond. There was also no prescribed procedure for ATC to indicate in their systems that a parachute clearance had been issued.
Airservices subsequently introduced a procedure for separation assurance at Richmond and added a label in its systems to identify parachute drop clearances. The ATSB says that it is satisfied with the procedure and “will monitor the progress” of the action.