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Published on Friday, October 22, 2004

Near-miss in Heathrow holding stack

Two passenger aircraft were reportedly just 600 feet from colliding because an air traffic “holding stack” became so congested controllers could not distinguish the planes.

According to a report in The Times, the incident last December involved a United Airlines plane and a British Airways aircraft, carrying some 500 passengers between them.

The two aircraft were both heading for Heathrow but had been directed to the “Bovingdon stack” over Chesham in Buckinghamshire.

The Times reports that the controller, who could not distinguish the two plane's call signs on his screen, “mistook another aircraft at 12,000 feet for the BA aircraft, which was at 13,000 feet".

"He then ordered the United aircraft to descend to 13,000 feet, into what he wrongly believed was empty airspace. Within 40 seconds the vertical distance between the two planes had reduced to only 600 feet, breaching the minimum safety gap of 1,000 feet.”

The aircraft would have reportedly come much closer if it had not been for the BA jet’s collision avoidance system, which ordered the pilot to dive.

The Times suggests that the problem may have arisen because airlines try to cram as many arrivals as possible into the time after 06.00, when noise restrictions are lifted at Heathrow.

The newspaper states: “Many aircraft arrive over London just before 06.00 and spend up to 45 minutes circling before being given permission to land.”

Report by Tim Gillett, News From Abroad Ltd

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  • I think you'll find this happened again

    I think you'l find that LX338 from Zurich into Heathrow was within 50-100 feet of another aircraft this evening, with both Aircraft having to take evasive action. I saw the other AIrcraft approaching from the port side and it appeared to miss the wing tip of the Zurich aircraft by mere feet...... the passenger next to me screamed out loud.

    By Richard Dixon, Friday, February 21, 2014

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