Close encounter between Ethiopian Airlines and TAP Air Portugal aircraft above DR Congo

© XMaxime MJ

The Congolese government said on Wednesday that a major air disaster was narrowly avoided above its country. Two aircraft passed each other below the minimum separation zone. Several technical problems with air traffic control occurred. Luckily, good communication between the crews prevented the worse. 

The human toll could have been terrible, a Congolese government source said that a disaster was narrowly avoided on Wednesday over the south-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), between a TAP Air Portugal Airbus A330 (*) and en Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 (**).

The Ethiopian Airlines aircraft operated a flight between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Windhoek, Namibia while the TAP Air Portugal plane operated a flight between Maputo, Mozambique and Lisbon, Portugal. The two routes converged near Lubumbashi, the aircraft were already in close proximity. Air traffic control should have reacted to the situation but could not appropriately respond due to the failure of two antennas (Kalemie and Kamina) and its defective radio communication.

A very alarming situation,” the Congolese minister of transport wrote in a letter to the Congolese aviation authorities, requesting a circumstantial report of the incident and a full detailed report of the current situation of air traffic control in its airspace.

(*) (**) according to Flightradar24-data, yet to be confirmed.


  1. The minimum separation between the two aircraft on Wednesday May 19th 2021, both at FL380, was at least 66nm or 8 minutes flying time. The crossing point was overhead Lubumbashi indeed.

    CS-TUM began descending from FL380 to 360 at 08:51Z just before reaching Lubumbashi and crossed Lubumbashi and the crossing point at FL369.

    ET-AQQ reached the crossing point at Lubumbashi at FL380 at 08:59Z

    At the time CS-TUM vacated FL380 the aircraft were more than 66nm apart from each other.

    If the area around Lubumbashi is not monitored (like e.g. the Atlantic or Pacific), then there could be a violation of separation criteria of 10 minutes separation. While this, if this is the case, warrants an investigation of why the 10 minutes were not maintained, there is no need for such an alarm whatsoever.


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