Latam and Copa planes enter a collision course, but TCAS avoids the worst in Ecuador

Air traffic conflicts are not the most common situations in aviation, but if they do occur, there are systems that work to prevent them from resulting in more serious problems. An example that illustrates this statement happened on the night of August 13th, when an Airbus A319 from Latam and a Boeing 737 from Copa Airlines entered a potential collision course in Ecuador.

After the incident, the Ecuadorian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a statement reporting the entire case, including the probable root cause and opening a further investigation to assess what happened. For the authority, the problem began after a collision with a bird on the airport’s runway led to the closure of its only runway.

This made the controllers reorganize the approaches, especially of the two mentioned planes, instructing the pilots to suspend the landing procedures and turn right. As can be seen in the images below, Latam flight LA-1351, coming from Quito, would land in front of Copa flight CMP-468, arriving from Panama.

When the approach was frustrated for both, the pilots turned, after guidance from the controller, coming to be very close, below the expected minimum separation. At the time of the conflict, Copa’s Boeing was at 3,275 feet and Latam’s Airbus was at 3,000 feet, that is, a separation of less than 300 feet that resulted in an alert from the equipment called Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

TCAS assesses the position of aircraft and guides the maneuver that pilots need to make with their aircraft if there is a risk of collision. The resolution alert, as it is called, aims to end the conflict and ensure the safety of flights. As you can see in the images, the Copa flight ends up making a sharper turn to the right.

In the letter issued by the aeronautical authority (below), immediate corrective actions are mentioned, as well as the opening of an investigative process.

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