View Full Version : Civil Ops over Iraq...A Worry

Waldo Pepper
15th May 2004, 19:13
Flying from KWI this morning in a 777, we were cleared at the Iraqi border to enter Iraqi airspace, to climb from FL180 to 380 and to fly direct to Basra. I was a little upset therefore, to see a TCAS return on a reciprocal track, a target descending toward us. We stopped the climb, turned 30degrees off track and asked the American controller what he was playing at. He said he knew of no other traffic in the area. So I must have been imagining the C130 that flew past 700ft above and descending, lateral displacement about half a mile...
Once we told him that we had a visual on the traffic, he said that he had handed that aircraft over to Kuwait control at FL230. In that case, what was it doing descending through 210 whilst still in Iraqi airspace?

Okay, a bit of drama for us on the flight deck, but no major harm done. It triggered a TCAS TA and caused us to fly clear, and that was pretty much it on this occasion.

But this is not the first time this has happened...I know of at least one other time when a TCAS RA was triggered in similar circumstances.

The point is that military and civil traffic do not mix very well in this environment. Talk about an error chain...all you need is a bit of IMC, the military traffic to switch off its transponder (as they do-all the time, switching it on and off) and thereby negate the warning provided by TCAS...well, I shudder to think.

I'm concerned.I've filed the report, but it worries me enough to post this message to make others aware, if they're not already, of the lack of coordination in this airspace.

15th May 2004, 20:39
Just to clarify a few things, you stopped a climb, and initiated a turn all from a TA? I've yet to see even an RA give a turn command!

Waldo Pepper
15th May 2004, 21:12
I left some of the detail out of the original post because it didn't appear to be relevant to the point I was trying to make...but here it is anyway. A light 777 has a healthy rate of climb...as I backed off the climb (V/S) my colleague radioed the query to ATC. They told us to maintain altitude we were passing. I levelled the a/c at FL200, and that's when they said no known traffic. I could see on TCAS that the target was still descending onto us, but couldn't see the traffic. At this point, rather than wait for the inevitable RA, we turned off track...not an avoidance manoeuvre in the accepted sense, but a response to a hightly unusual situation. As we commenced the turn, we got the TA. We then saw the C130 descending...strictly speaking, perhaps we should havewaited for the RA..but I have to say he was coming straight at us and it seemed prudent to turn out of the way. What if he'd decided to switch off the tx at that point(i think they do it to stay stealthy, not sure)? Then he'd just have disappeared from our display and we'd have to visually avoid, not great with a closing speed of around 500kts...

Whatever. Maybe we did the wrong thing. That's not the point. The point is that it's unsatisfactory that these events are occuring under supposed radar control.

15th May 2004, 21:20
Thanks, makes more sense now. Maybe the controller was reading his copy of Stars and Stripes!

16th May 2004, 06:28
The controller said that he didn't know of any tfc in the area and yet he did know about the C130 he handed off to Kuwait……….?
Is it really a radar environment? If it was, then he should have seen that the herc had left FL230. And besides, even if the herc had maintained FL230, why clear you up to FL380??
Doesn't sound like control to me!

16th May 2004, 06:48
It worries me too. Yesterday, southbound 40 nm north of Basra we lost radio contact with Baghdad Control. We tried all frequencies available to us and relays as well without luck. At this point point we were more worried about triggerhappy fighterpilots than anything else. Finally we contacted Kuwait Center who gave us descent clearence even though we were well north of the Kuwait FIR (destination was Kuwait).

I'm not sure who is in charge over he airspace between Basra and the Kuwait border. I hope they do if they are letting commercial airliners through the airspace. This should be looked into.

16th May 2004, 09:44
Don't know a whole lot about the situation in the Gulf region, specifically Iraqi/Kuwaiti co-ordination, but I do know this - during ATC training we were taught that a TCAS RA would not advise/instruct a crew to initiate lateral manoeuvers for traffic advise, that it's extent was limited to the vertical plain. Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe the technology has progressed a bit since then?!

Also, as the mil controller had handed off the C130 to Kuwaiti control, he may well not have seen it on his radar when the incident occurred. As has already been mentioned above, mil crews are in the habit of intermittently using their transponders when operating when in a hostile environment (which I'm in no doubt that some or many of them view Iraq as such). There is also the possibility that as co-ordination and the radar hand-off had already been effected between the military and Kuwaiti controllers, the filters on the mil radar may have been set to exclude detailed info on this fllight from the display!

I could be way off the mark with these comments, but I think there could be any number of explanations. One possibility I would hate to contemplate of course would be any complacency or lack of professionalism on the part of ATC, either military or civilian, although it cannot be ruled out. Just have to wait and see what results from the investigation (if anything!!)

Either way, I take my hat off to you Waldo. IMHO, your teamwork, sound decision-making, and quick reaction to a potentially catastrophic situation undoubtedly saved the day.
Definitely strengthens the arguments for alertness and good situational awareness. :ok: :ok:

Let's just hope the stuation isn't white-washed, so that some other poor sod doesn't find himself in a similar situation in the future, that may not be so easy to get out of!!

16th May 2004, 10:53
You gotta love posts that start with "I don't know anything about it but............":rolleyes:

Chimbu chuckles
16th May 2004, 11:17
Did you try calling the aircraft on 121.5?

I realise you were busy and applaud your actions...just curious. We're all supposed to be monitoring 121.5 all the time in ME airspace...I wonder if the mil guys are too.


16th May 2004, 11:32
Sounds like a good case for getting offset tracking accepted as SOP for everyone in the region.

17th May 2004, 16:51
One explanation of some problems with Iraq overflights is that portions of the airspace are "controlled" by airborne AWACS crew. How much ATC (as opposed to fighter control) training they have is possibly a factor.........

18th May 2004, 19:15
Good point, ETOPS.

I hate to be pragmatic [OK, that's a lie. I live to be pragmatic], but if that IS the case, then it seems to me that the problem either has to be fixed or non-mil traffic excluded from the space. In other words, if it is impossible to protect the civilian traffic, then why screw around? Same deal with lost comm...

As for Kuwait Center who gave us descent clearence even though we were well north of the Kuwait FIR Yikes! Were you in a C130? Did you happen to notice a triple-7 getting out of your way? :eek:

Have we stumbled on one possible explanation (by no means the only...).


"Magic 39 Kuwait pointout..."

Panama Jack
19th May 2004, 10:36
I was wondering how pilots generally feel about operating over Iraq given the current state of affairs on the ground, and in light of the attempted shooting down of the DHL Airbus on approach to Bagdhad. I recall just over a year ago long detours around Iraqi airspace between the Middle East and Europe (through Saudi Arabian airspace) just after the end of the war had been declared.

I admit that a few weeks ago I was surprised to wake up from my in-seat slumber to find the Airshow system having plotted a line through Iraq, over Bagdhad, and at that point over Basra. I told my habitually nervous wife about it and she almost had a fit, given the images on TV during the last few weeks. :ooh:

Iron City
19th May 2004, 13:46
That was darn nice of you Panama Jack, get her heart really pumping, good counter to possible DVT. I do the same thing uncontiously sometimes when I look out the window intently at some bits of flap or slat as configurations change and I get the "What!! What!! What is wrong?" from my wife. Mostly I just say "nothing" but sometimes......

19th May 2004, 15:53
I made much the same point a few weeks ago on a seperate thread. I flew AMS-BAH with KLM and we flew over Iraq.

Okay at FL380 you might be safe from SAM batteries, but what if you lost both donks through fuel contamination, or had a cargo fire, or lost hydraulics, or suffered any one of a dozen other reasons why you'd need to get on the ground pretty damned quick?

Where would you go?

Panama Jack
19th May 2004, 16:16
That was darn nice of you Panama Jack, get her heart really pumping, good counter to possible DVT.

To clarify, she was not on the flight-- I called her after I arrived at the destination. :)

Maxrev, I don't think that landing in Iraq with problems like you are describing would be worse than having them over the open ocean, hundreds of miles from land. :oh:

19th May 2004, 16:22
Maxrev, I don't think that landing in Iraq with problems like you are describing would be worse than having them over the open ocean, hundreds of miles from land.

In either situation, a survival aspect of 4 of 5 even if your arrival in Iraq involved a certificated aerodrome which was group rated for your type.

19th May 2004, 17:37
Isnt it the Australian Military running Bagdad ATC

19th May 2004, 19:40
TCAS is performance taylored to the respective airplane, so there is really no need for you to "second guess" a Traffic Advisory and further attempt to compensate performance between your 777 and the C130 target by prematurely throttling back, stopping your climb, and initiating a turn. A TA is still 20 to 48 seconds from CPA (Closest Point of Approach).
One technique that may calm your nerves during your next TA might be to select the 5 miles range setting. An RA will still give you 15 to 35 seconds between CPA.

Waldo Pepper
21st May 2004, 00:26
I can't remember what range scale was set. As I said earlier, both myself and the skipper have had experience of military traffic disappearing and popping up with the switching on and off of the TCAS. The fact that we were over Iraq, speaking to a controller who appeared to be unaware of the conflicting traffic, and aware that TCAS is only of use if the other a/c has it switched on, was enough to convince us both that it would be prudent to take proactive measures. Like I said, maybe not what the book says, but definitely on the safer side..
There may also be a bit of conditioning involved-on my last sim check we had to practise RAs, one of which was traffic dead ahead descending to our level. We had to react on the RA. Say what you like, in that situation when the RA is triggered it's fairly dramatic.