REX airline pilots have been warned against using sight only to navigate to the Newcastle airport, following up a 2012 incident in which crew mistook the coal loaders and stockpiles on Koorangang Island for the airport runway.
An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report issued on Friday said low light conditions in the evening were the main contributing factor for the pilots’ incorrect visual identification of the coal facility as the environment of the airport at Williamstown, which led to them manoeuvring the Saab 340B for an approach to that location.
The crew said although the flight was completed in daylight, conditions on 8 November 2012 were darker than usual due to cloud cover in the western sky.
Air traffic control did not question the crew until they observed the aircraft tracking 15 kilometres south-west of the airport and descending through 1300 feet.
When the crew advised of their difficulty sighting the runway, air traffic control informed them of their location and advised them to climb back to the safe altitude of 2100 feet.
Following the investigation REX (Regional Express) alerted its crews to the possibility of misidentification of features in that area, and were reminded of the importance of using navigation equipment to verify position.
The captain of the flight had been suffering from an intermittent illness and took several RDOs to recover off duty, and had initially rejected the flight duty but then agreed to captain the flight to prevent the service from being cancelled, believing he was fit for duty.
Koorangang Island Coal Loading Facility