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V Australia, Air New Zealand flights on collision course

By Margaret Wise SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 2, 2010) –A MAJOR investigation is being carried out to determine why a V Australia Boeing 777 and an Air New Zealand 767 narrowly missed a mid-air collision in Fiji airspace two weeks ago.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji has confirmed Australian authorities want to know why the two passenger planes with 600 people on board were on a collision course about 100 nautical miles out of Nadi. The May 7 incident happened around 4pm.

The Fiji Times has been reliably informed what could have been a major disaster was avoided when the planes altered course after crew visually sighted oncoming traffic.

CAAFI chief executive officer Netava Waqa said in his "position as a regulator", he could not provide details of the incident.

However, he assured an investigation was in progress of which the first phase was completed.

"I am not in a position to comment on the specifics but I want to emphasise that we take these reports very seriously. We are working with our Australian counterparts as they too want to know what we are doing about it," Mr Waqa said.

"We have completed the first part and the second part has started where we look at the root causes. We will do all we can to prevent this from happening again."

Amanda Bolger of V Australia said both aircraft were in Nadi air traffic-controlled airspace and were aware each of other. She said neither airline was at fault and the "aircraft altered course to maintain separation".

Air New Zealand's Lara Harrison said the company had received enquiries on the near-miss from the Australian media.

"A Virgin Australia flight passed approximately 10 nautical miles behind an Air New Zealand service operating to Fiji on Friday, 7 May. Both aircraft were in contact with each other," she said.

Neither responded to queries related to a file report that estimated the Air New Zealand plane had passed the Los Angeles bound V Australia's nose by two nautical miles with a vertical clearance of 800 feet.

Reports state the Traffic Collision Avoidance System for both planes had gone off to warn the pilots that traffic was approaching at the level they had both been cleared to fly. Industry experts say with the speed of the aircraft at the time, the action taken by the pilots meant they saved the plane in "seconds". The Air New Zealand plane was on its way to Nadi.

Airports Fiji Limited remained tightlipped about the event choosing not to comment on the actions taken as a result of the reports from the two airlines.

"We will neither deny nor confirm the matter. Investigations on what may have transpired are ongoing and it is premature to comment further on the issue," said AFL spokesman Pio Rokosuka.

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