Australia investigates possible ATC errors in Virgin 737 incident

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is focusing on human factors in the ongoing investigation into an incident where certain data on a Virgin Australia flight was not properly displayed on air traffic controllers' (ATC) displays.

The incident occurred on 28 September and involved a Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800, with registration VH-VUM, which was in service from Sydney to Brisbane.

While the aircraft was transiting through the Coffs Harbour region, the controller assigned to monitor the airspace incorrectly assumed that it was landing at Williamtown and inhibited the flight data record for the aircraft.

The action indicated that the aircraft no longer required ATC attention and this resulted in the colour change of the tracking marker from green to black. It also led to the removal of the aircraft's callsign on the ATC display, leaving only the track symbol, history dots and velocity vector information on the screen.

In addition, the action disabled route adherence monitoring, danger area infringement warning and cleared level adherence monitoring, although short-term conflict alert remained available.

Shortly after transiting into an adjacent airspace, the crew of the 737-800 contacted the controller querying the need for a frequency transfer, at which point the aircraft was identified and re-established to its proper status.

Records show that the flight data record had been inhibited for 27min.

The ATSB says it will focus its investigation on the operational aspects of the occurrence, ATC system functions and human factors that influenced the occurrence.

It adds that it expects to complete the investigation by June 2013.