Approaches to a few meters and near misses: The airspace over Germany is dangerous. This is shown by data from the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation. One reason: more and more air traffic.
By Lea Busch and Peter Hornung, NDR
Over the past four years over 170 potentially dangerous aircraft approaches have occurred in the airspace over Germany. This is shown by figures from the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU), which is the Federal Office for Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) NDR available. Most of these are alarms from collision warning systems, which prompt traffic pilots to change course immediately. In other cases, dangerous approaches and near misses have been observed by the pilots without any prior warning.
Aeronautics experts believe that the overall figures are even higher, as reports are also received by other aeronautical authorities. In addition, there is a considerable number of unreported incidents. The reasons for dangerous approaches are manifold: more and more flight movements, incompatible collision warning systems of large and small aircraft, lack of radio technology in private aircraft, but also traffic pilots who take shortcuts due to the time pressure by airplanes shared with gliders.
Again and again in the so-called mixed airspace, a zone used by large and small aircraft in the wider vicinity of commercial airports, such incidents occur. Thus, in 2018 alone in North Rhine-Westphalia in the vicinity of Weeze and Paderborn airports, there were at least eight approaches between commercial aircraft and gliders, in which passenger aircraft sometimes had to dodge several times in order to prevent a collision.
Dangerous approach with passenger plane
On July 23, 2019 missed in Schleswig-Holstein south of Lubeck an Airbus A 321 Lufthansa and a glider only by a few meters. "Suddenly a large lettering 'Lufthansa' appeared next to me, about 40 to 60 meters away," says the affected glider pilot in the NDR-Politmagazin Panorama 3 the meeting with the 175 people occupied aircraft approaching the Hamburg airport.
A preliminary investigation report of the BFU assumes that both the glider pilot and the Lufthansa pilot were allowed to stay in the relevant airspace. Both aircraft had obviously not been able to perceive due to different warning systems previously. The glider could also be recognized due to lack of technical equipment neither from the Lufthansa machine nor the air traffic controller on the radar. A Lufthansa spokesman said that one supports the investigation work of the competent authorities in such incidents during flight operations, but does not want to prejudge the result.
"That could have cracked too"
Christoph Strumpfel of the Institute of Aerospace of the Technical University of Berlin sees the increasing air traffic as an important reason for such incidents: "German airspace is one of the busiest airspaces in Europe." Especially in mixed airspaces, where commercial airliners converge with private planes, the flying principle of "seeing and evading" is used, which not infrequently reaches its limits. Strumpfel sees the legislature in duty to issue stricter rules here.
Felix Gottwald of the Vereinigung Cockpit considers the danger of a collision between a passenger aircraft and a smaller aircraft to be absolutely realistic: "I am astonished that nothing has happened since we have enough reports where it was very close, where aircraft That would have been a coincidence, so it's only a matter of when something like that happens and not whether. "
Herbert Martin of the German Gliding Association criticizes the traffic pilots, who increasingly resorted to mixed airspace due to time constraints, even though they had safe, controlled airspaces: "Certain catch-up effects in the airline's flight plan must not be at the expense of safety, because the protected airspace for leave commercial air traffic. " Martins Verband is currently looking at the introduction of the new mobile standard 5G on technical innovations, "which will create further improvements here".
Beware of overloading the radio frequency
However, a requirement of the BFU two years ago to equip all aircraft with so-called transponders, ie transmitters that emit the position and the course of an aircraft, is viewed critically by most experts. At the beginning of 2019, German air traffic control had determined by means of a simulation that this would lead to an overload of the radio frequencies and would be rather harmful to flight safety. The Federal Ministry of Transport announced NDRRequest that it is currently investigating the issue together with experts: "As part of the flight safety work, the relevant points for possible implementation are identified and considered."
The political magazine Panorama 3 deals with this topic at 9:15 pm on NDR television today.