The last flying Vulcan bomber came close to a midair crash over South Yorkshire after a radar operator was distracted by a phone call, a new report has revealed.
Aviation bosses are investigating after concerns were raised that the Vulcan came close to colliding with another aircraft less than four miles from Robin Hood Airport.
It was reported as a ‘near miss’ and experts from the Civil Aviation Authority were called in.
Their official report, released this week, reveals that a radar operator had been distracted by a phone call.
The near miss happened on the first day the Vulcan arrived from its former base at RAF Lyneham. It involved a De Haviland Canada DHC-8 aeroplane on a scheduled flight from Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster to Jersey.
When staff spotted a potential risk, the airliner had already set off down the runway to take off. Controllers radioed the Vulcan to ask it to stop descending at 3,000ft but it kept dropping to 2,300ft.
They told the airliner to turn and the two aircraft passed one another with the Vulcan just 200ft above the airliner and two miles away - far too close in aircraft terms.
Details have been published in an official report from the UK Airprox Board, which is investigates near misses.
The controller told investigators a phone call to the airport authority had been distracting and caused a delay in taking action to avert the risk.
The report says: “The controller indicated the Vulcan was a heavy, fast aircraft and considering the type of approach and high-profile nature of the arrival, a restriction on all departures would have been appropriate.”
It says the Vulcan pilot’s lack of response to various transmissions was frustrating and not helpful.
The report said it later became apparent the Vulcan crew had reported a control problem. It was not clear if this may have been a factor.
The airliner pilot was praised for intuitively recognising there was a problem.
“This significantly contributed to a resolution of the situation,” it said.
Experts concluded there was no risk of collision.
But the report recommended officials remind controllers to make sure non-operational conversations are not allowed to interfere with operational duties. It concluded the cause of the near miss was late recognition that the Vulcan was not flying in accordance with the controller’s expectations.
What officials call an ‘airprox’, or a near miss, occurs when, in the opinion of a pilot or controller, the distance between aircraft, their relative positions and speed was such that the safety of the aircraft may have been compromised.
The report says: “The sole objective of the UK Airprox Board is to assess reported Airprox in the interests of enhancing flight safety. It is not the purpose of the Board to apportion blame or liability.”
Names of companies and individuals are not published.