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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

FAA Changes Urged After 5 Near Airline Collisions

A Virgin America flight prepares to land at McCarran International Airport, March 2012, in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

A Virgin America flight prepares to land at McCarran International Airport, March 2012, in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued recommendations to the Federal Aviation Agency to change its air traffic control procedures.

The NTSB found that current rules for planes that abort a landing create “hazardous conflicts and introduce unnecessary collision risk.”

The NTSB investigated five near mid-air collisions at commercial airports and found that the rules create the possibility for mid-air collisions and leave pilots without any guidance from air-traffic control.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is considered at especially high risk because of its angled runways that allow flights taking off simultaneously to cross.

Guest:

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. We're learning more today about why a Spirit Airlines passenger flight carrying 131 people was forced to nosedive over Michigan on Sunday. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson says air traffic controllers noticed a skydive jump plane nearing the Spirit jetliner. That Spirit plane then got an automated warning telling the pilot to lose altitude and fast.

Passenger Janet Dunnabeck told ABC News it was chaos in the cabin.

JANET DUNNABECK: The plane took a sudden jump down in altitude, enough to where we were lifted from our seats. The entire cabin was screaming and crying.

YOUNG: There were no injuries. The FAA is investigating. Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board has revealed new information about five other near misses, most from last year, and they're now recommending some new procedures. We start there today. Andy Pasztor is with the Wall Street Journal. Andy, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman wrote a letter to the FAA identifying these five near misses, a couple at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. And they all happened during a go-around. Remind us what that is.

ANDY PASZTOR: That's right. These are very close calls. These - all these incidents occurred when a plane was on approach to land, but then the pilots for whatever reason decided to halt or terminate that approach and pull up or go around and climb away from the airport at the same time another aircraft was taking off from a runway at the same airport.

The runways actually did not intersect. These incidents have to do with the description of an airport where the runways don't intersect, but the flight paths of these planes under these circumstances do intersect, and that's exactly what happened in these cases, and they came very close.

YOUNG: Well, there was an incident last July at New York's JFK Airport, and the NTSB report says the pilot of one plane actually said we're trying not to hit this aircraft off to our right.

PASZTOR: That's absolutely right. It was an American Airlines 737 (unintelligible) coming in to land at one runway while a Pinnacle Airlines regional jet was taking from another. And the American Airlines decided to go around. And they came within 300 feet vertically and about 1,800 feet laterally. And the separation should be basically two miles laterally and 1,000 feet vertically.

So they came very close. And this is particularly important because at JFK, in 2009 they put in some procedures to try to prevent these kind of things from happening because they already were aware of the problem. But the NTSB is saying that basically not enough has been done.

YOUNG: Well, what is the NTSB recommending now?

PASZTOR: To pay special attention to these airports where these flight paths do intersect and to make sure that there are - no planes are given the go ahead to take off before a plane that's landing has actually touched down on the runway and doesn't have a chance to go around.

YOUNG: Well, you write that the planes landing are talking to a different set of controllers than the planes taking off. So just briefly, does that have to be changed?

PASZTOR: Well that's right. I mean, this is - at these airports, that's typically the situation. And there are ways to get around that. That is not something that the NTSB is recommending specifically be changed. What the NTSB is saying is that when things don't go exactly as planned, there should be very clearly defined, very specific and very predictable procedures to cope with these go-arounds. And they say that those are not now in place, at least at some airports.

YOUNG: Well, we hope to follow this and see when they do get put in place. Andy Pasztor of the Wall Street Journal talking about this number of near misses and the NTSB's new recommendations. Andy, thank you.

PASZTOR: Sure, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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