On 29 June 2012, a Piper PA-31 being operated by Advance Aviation Group on a passenger charter flight from Mackay to Emerald was cleared for and made a daylight take off in normal visibility from runway 05, becoming airborne just before overflying a runway inspection vehicle which had entered runway 05 from runway 32 contrary to clearance.
An Investigation was carried out by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). The aircraft was estimated to have been about 30 feet agl when it passed over the 6 feet high vehicle. As the departing aircraft accelerated, the pilot had realised that a vehicle on his right was moving along runway 05 towards the intersection and had become concerned that it may continue onto the active runway. He had concluded that rejecting the take off would probably lead to a ground collision and therefore elected to continue and achieve a rotation prior to the intersection so as to overfly the vehicle if it did not stop.
It was established that the vehicle had been inspecting the T-VASIS on runway 32, which intersects runway 05 and that the clearance given to operate on runway 32 had been conditional on remaining clear of runway 05 had been correctly read back approximately two minutes prior to the incursion. About a minute after accepting this clearance, the vehicle driver was found to have taken a mobile phone call which had still been in progress at the time of the incursion. Although the vehicle driver subsequently advised that he had been aware that an aircraft was about to depart from runway 05 prior to taking the phone call, he believed that his situational awareness had then been compromised by the distraction of the telephone call. An annotated diagram of the aerodrome layout is provided below (‘LWW’ is the departing aircraft registration suffix)
Mackay Airport (reproduced from the Official Report)
It was noted that the Airside Driving Handbook issued by the Mackay airport operator stipulated that “mobile telephones were not to be used while operating a mobile vehicle airside”. Planned Safety Action by the Airport Operator in response to the incident was noted.
The Investigation noted that since the incident, the State ANSP had published a general ‘Airside Drivers Guide to Runway Safety’. The existence of an Australian Government Road Safety Report on driver distraction was also noted.
The Investigation concluded that “this incident highlights the importance of remaining vigilant during airside operations and (the need) to be mindful of the potential distraction presented by all portable communication devices including mobile telephones.”
The Final Report: AO-2012-090 of the Investigation was released on 27 November 2012. No Safety Recommendations were made.