THE world’s biggest passenger planes may get more room in the skies to improve safety for other aircraft after a terrifying wake turbulence drama.
Germany’s Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) has strongly recommended an “urgent review” of spacing between heavy aircraft and smaller jets after a dramatic midair incident involving a Sydney-bound Emirates A380 and a Bombardier Challenger jet in January.
The private jet plunged 9000-feet (2.7km) and spiralled several times after being hit by wake turbulence from the A380 as the two aircraft flew in opposite directions over the Arabian Sea.
According to BFU investigator Jens Friedermann, “the airplane shook briefly then rolled heavily to the left and the autopilot disengaged”.
“Both pilots (took action) to stop the rolling motion but the airplane continued to roll to the left thereby completing several rotations,” said Mr Friedermann in the report.
Four of the six passengers on board the jet suffered injuries including a fractured nose, a fractured vertebrae and broken ribs. The flight attendant sustained minor injuries.
It was just as chaotic in the cockpit, where the captain lost his headset and the pages of the quick reference manual scattered everywhere.
Damage to the aircraft was so severe it could “not be restored to an airworthy state”, the report said.
Currently, vertical separation of 1000-feet (305m) is considered the safe minimum distance for aircraft flying close to parallel tracks.
The BFU report said the risk was considered “acceptable” at this time but it recommended the issue be investigated further.
Airspace experts at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority were yesterday still examining the interim report.
Australian aviation safety consultant Trevor Jensen said the A380 had “real problems with wake turbulence” because of its size and wingspan, but it was generally well managed by Air Traffic Control.
“There are already rules that have been created specific to A380s — such as other aircraft have to wait a certain amount of time before taking off after an A380,” said Mr Jensen.
“It’s more of an issue for airfields close to major airports such as Essendon or Bankstown, where wake turbulence is created into the airspace by A380s’ taking off and going around.”
The worst case of wake turbulence did not involve an A380 but a Boeing 747, taking off from New York’s JFK airport in November 2001.
An American Airlines A300 encountered turbulence as it took off behind the 747 and yawed to the right. The first officer tried to correct the aircraft but instead managed to snap off the tail. All 265 people on board were killed.
In another incident in 2012, a Virgin Australia 737 was thrown violently to the right after being overflown by an Emirates A380 near Bali.
The crew was not warned that the superjumbo was approaching. No-one was injured.