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Reading: The Überlingen Mid-Air Collision: A Tradegy—Revisited

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The Überlingen Mid-Air Collision: A Tradegy—Revisited

Author:

David F. Branstner

Information Systems and Innovation Group, Department of Management, London School of Economics, GB
About David F.
Candidate for M.Sc. In Analysis Design and Management of Information Systems
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Abstract

When Danish air traffic controller Peter Nielsen was murdered in 2004 by a Russian who lost his family at the Überlingen mid-air collision, this was only the last point of a big tragedy. 71 people lost their lives when a Boeing B-757 cargo aircraft and a Tupolew TU-154 commercial airliner collided in July 2002 over Germany, close to the Swiss border. Although several factors led to the disaster, it was also the inconsistent behaviour of the two pilots which contributed to the collision. One followed the instructions of the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). The other followed the orders of the air controller. In this paper I argue that the redundancy systems which are constructed in order to increase safety in High Reliability Organisations (HRO) can conversely produce uncertainty. They can create situations in which decisions need to be made based on insufficient information. By reflecting on trust, culture and power I analyse why under these circumstances the commercial airliner might have been eventually steered according to the orders of the controller. Finally I apply aspects of Mathiassen and Sørensen‘s (2008) framework of Information Services to offer a theoretical explanation as to why the ultimate situation was impossible to resolve.

How to Cite: Branstner, D.F., 2009. The Überlingen Mid-Air Collision: A Tradegy—Revisited. iSCHANNEL, 4(1), pp.5–11.
Published on 01 Sep 2009.
Peer Reviewed

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