Planes narrowly avoid collision on Austin airport runway

Two planes narrowly avoided a collision at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas on Saturday after an air traffic controller cleared arriving and departing flights to use the same runway, authorities said.

A FedEx cargo plane, a Boeing 767, was forced to abort its landing after a Southwest Airlines flight was cleared to take off on the same runway, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The FedEx flight, from Memphis, Tennessee, was cleared to land on runway 18-left around 6:40 a.m. local time when it was several miles from the airport, the FAA said. .

“Shortly before the FedEx plane was scheduled to land, the controller cleared Southwest Flight 708 to take off from the same runway,” the agency said. “The pilot of the FedEx aircraft aborted the landing and initiated a climb.”

In a excerpt from radio broadcasts of the episode posted on Twitter, an air traffic controller hints at reduced visibility conditions, said Michael McCormick, a former FAA control tower operator and assistant professor of aviation science at Embry-Riddle University, whose administrative offices are in Daytona , in Florida.

At one point, the southwestern flight is abruptly told to abort, according to the audio clip.

Mr McCormick said the air traffic controller probably couldn’t see either plane, but was relying on both pilot reports and the airport’s surface detection technology to track airplanes. He said the near-miss was “exacerbated” by reduced visibility, which can be caused by dense fog or an unusually narrow gap between ground and cloud.

Mr McCormick said there was not enough room between the two planes and said they were in a ‘critical phase of flight in poor weather conditions’.

Mr McCormick and Ross Feinstein, a former spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration and American Airlines, said the near miss appeared to be caused by air traffic control. The union that represents air traffic controllers could not be reached immediately on Sunday.

The Southwest plane landed about three hours later in Cancun, Mexico, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. It was not immediately clear how many people were on board. A company representative declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport declined to comment.

Shannon Davis, a FedEx spokeswoman, said the cargo plane, which had come from Memphis, ultimately landed safely in Austin. It was not immediately clear what cargo, if any, it was carrying.

Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA said they were investigating.

The Austin episode came a day after a minor crash involving two United Airlines planes at Newark Liberty International Airport. A Boeing 787 that was being towed clipped the wing of a parked plane, a Boeing 757-200, the FAA said. Footage from the scene showed that the tip of a wing had been torn off.

No one was injured and airport operations were not affected, port authorities in New York and New Jersey said. The passengers were transferred to different flights and the other plane had no passengers, a United Airlines representative said. The FAA said it was investigating.

Last month at Kennedy International Airport, an American Airlines plane crossed a runway about 1,000 feet ahead of a Delta flight that was about to take off. The US pilots appear to have misinterpreted instructions issued by air traffic control, according to radar recordings and audio recordings.


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