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Air safety investigators say they will look into claims signals from a naval communications base near Exmouth in Western Australia's north may have caused last week's Qantas mid-air emergency.
Operations at the Harold E Holt naval communications base in Exmouth in WA's north-west will change dramatically this week as the Navy activates a new high frequency automated communications system.
In August 2005, as reported in the Wall Street Journal (5/30/06), a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 flying from Australia to Malaysia suddenly ascended 3,000 feet, with no input from the flight crew. The pilot disengaged the autopilot and pointed the nose down to avoid a stall, but the plane went into a steep dive. When he throttled back on the engines to reduce the speed, the plane arched into another climb. The flight crew eventually got things under control and returned their 177 passengers safely to Australia. Investigators determined that a faulty computer program recently installed on all 777s had provided incorrect information about the plane's speed and acceleration, confusing flight computers.
In July 2002, the Australian Navy handed over operation of the station to the Defence Material Organisation. The base is currently operated under contract by Boeing Australia, Ltd.
As of July 2002 all naval personnel have departed the Base and the facility is now managed by a civil company Boeing Australia.
Air safety investigators are examining concerns that electro-magnetic interference from a top secret US base at Exmouth could have sparked an emergency aboard a Qantas flight from Singapore to Perth earlier this month in which almost 70 people were injured.
It is understood the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will look into claims that transmissions from the Harold E Holt base caused a computer malfunction on QF72 which caused the Airbus A330-300 to climb unexpectedly before diving twice.....
.....It is known that fears about the possible effects of transmissions from the base on aircraft have been raised before and the ATSB has now factored those concerns into the wider incident investigation.
The ATSB said on Tuesday night it had narrowed the cause of the accident down to a fault in one of the Airbus’s complicated computer systems, known as Air Data Inertial Reference Unit, though investigators admit they remain clueless as to the specific cause.
Revelations the ADIRU was at the centre of the scare led to claims the accident may have links to a similar event involving a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 flight between Kuala Lumpur and Perth in August 2005 also involving a fault in the ADIRU.
However, it is thought the ATSB has ruled out any connection between the two events, as the problem in that case was traced to a specific software fault in the system.
But Capt. Mike Glynn, vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, said it was unusual that computer faults had occurred in two different ADIRUs on two different aircraft in the same region of WA.
January 3rd 2009 - A MALFUNCTION has forced a Qantas jet to return to Perth, prompting concerns for the second time in three months that interference from a defence station in northwestern Australia may be to blame for a mid-air drama on the national carrier.
Qantas flight 71 was on route to Singapore with 277 passengers about 8.30am last Saturday when it had to return to Perth after the jet's autopilot disconnected because of a problem with a unit that supplies key information to flight control computers.
The Airbus A330-300 was 45 minutes into the journey and about 380 nautical miles south of the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station - 15km north of Exmouth - when the autopilot switched off.
After being notified that the plane was experiencing a problem with the air data inertial reference unit, the crew responded in less than a minute and followed revised operation procedures issued by Airbus after a similar emergency in October.
In a preliminary report on the October incident, the bureau said it did not know why the ADIRU started sending false data, keeping alive speculation that interference from the station might have contributed to or caused the problem.
Aircraft engineer Peter Marosszeky said yesterday it was possible that interference from radio transmitters at the station could have caused the malfunction in both incidents.
"Even though the plane was 260 nautical miles (from Exmouth), those radio transmission signals are very powerful when they are transmitted," Mr Marosszeky said.
"These signals are supposed to travel around the world to reach submarines in the water and naval vessels, so they are very powerful. Whether there was one being transmitted at the time I don't know but you certainly have to look at the event log at the station."
The Defence Department would not comment yesterday.