Crash comes after air traffic change
UEBERLINGEN, Germany -- The Russian aircraft that collided with a Boeing 757 cargo plane over Germany repeatedly ignored warnings from ground controllers to reduce its altitude, according to Swiss air traffic controllers. (Full story)
But Alexander Neradko, Russia's first deputy minister for air transport, told Russian television that instead of focussing on pilot error, the investigation also should look at information from the ground.
He said the 1995-built Tupelov-154 had been fitted with the necessary equipment required for flights to Europe in December 2000.
"The human factor is made up of several different elements, not just born in the sky but on the ground," Reuters news agency quoted Neradko as saying. "There are as yet no grounds for saying what caused the accident."
The collision came less than six months after European air traffic controllers halved the minimum height between aircraft as part of the Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) programme. (Full story)
The change was designed to increase capacity in the skies by 20 percent and was introduced simultaneously in 41 countries in Europe and north Africa.
Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based European air safety organisation, said the changeover took four years to plan and that 9,300 aircraft were modified to handle the alteration.
Under RVSM, airlines flying above 29,000 feet in Europe can fly 1,000 feet apart instead of 2,000 feet previously.
The change almost doubles the number of flight levels between 29,000 and 41,000 feet.
Eurocontrol ordered airlines to prepare for RVSM by meeting higher standards of accuracy in measuring and maintaining correct altitude.
Although all modern aircraft are fitted with collision avoidance radar, pilots flying at more than 500mph may have only seconds to react.
Last month many airlines across Europe were forced to cancel flights because of protests by pilots and air traffic controllers against the European Union's "single sky" plan, which will bring all controllers under a Europe-wide command. (What is 'single sky'?)
Delays and disputes were reported in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and Hungary because of the protests. (Full story)
The radical "single sky" scheme involves putting all air traffic controllers under unified supervision so that airlines can fly routes that are not defined by national borders.
Officials say the scheme will ease congestion and reduce passenger delays by boosting capacity by 50 percent.
However, air traffic controllers' unions say the scheme would risk air safety and they fear it could lead to privatisation and job losses.
"We want a safe European sky, not just an economic one," said Joel Cariou, secretary of ATCEUC, an umbrella group of air traffic controllers that includes unions across Europe.
"When air traffic doubles, the risk of collision is squared."
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