Close call, turbulent flight add to aviation safety concerns
Federal officials have begun investigating a close call between planes in Boston, and they provided new details Thursday about a harrowing incident at an airport in Texas.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it has not determined exactly how close a FedEx cargo plane passed over the top of a Southwest Airlines jet last month in Austin, Texas, but there was little margin.
“We still believe the planes were within 100 feet of each other,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in an interview.
An air traffic controller had cleared both planes to use the same runway, the NTSB said in a preliminary report. The FedEx pilots pulled up at the last second to avoid a collision.
The NTSB is also investigating an incident Monday night at Boston’s Logan International Airport in which a Learjet pilot who was told by an air traffic controller to wait instead began to take off as a JetBlue plane approached to land on an intersecting runway. The JetBlue pilots pulled up, avoiding a collision.
Those and similar incidents in New York, California and Hawaii led the head of the Federal Aviation Administration to call for a “safety summit” and ignited a debate about whether air safety is declining or the events are just an unusual cluster of serious close calls.
“I don’t know that I can say that it’s a trend, but these are disturbing because it just takes one,” Homendy said. “That is why we investigate incidents — so that we can identify problems, especially when we see trends, and address them before they become a full-blown accident.”
Among the other recent incidents now being investigated:
• Last week pilots of a small airliner aborted their landing in Burbank, California, after a controller cleared another plane to take off from the same runway; the NTSB is investigating.
• A United Airlines jet crossed a runway at Honolulu International Airport in front of a Cessna cargo plane that was landing on the same runway on Jan. 23.
• The NTSB took the rare step of issuing subpoenas for pilots of an American Airlines plane that crossed a runway that a Delta Air Lines jet was using to take off Jan. 13 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The American pilots initially refused to sit for recorded interviews, but they complied after getting subpoenas, Homendy said.
• Federal officials are taking another look at an incident in which a United Airlines jet taking off from Hawaii dove to within 800 feet of the ocean before recovering. United says pilots of the December flight are getting additional training.