of a near-crash of two jets at Logan
Intersecting takeoffs OK'd
Federal Aviation Administration
and airline officials said yesterday that
the June 9 incident involved an Aer Lingus
Airbus A330 with 328 passengers bound for
Shannon International Airport in Ireland and
a US Airways
No one was hurt in the incident, which an FAA spokesman yesterday called an ''operational error" by air traffic controllers. According to a federal aviation source who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Aer Lingus flight was cleared to take off from Runway 15R and head southeast over Boston Harbor. At about the same time, the US Airways jet was cleared to take off eastbound on Runway 9.
At 7:34 p.m., the Aer Lingus flight had just lifted off and was passing over Runway 9 as the US Airways jet accelerated on Runway 9, closing to within 200 to 1,000 feet of the other aircraft, officials said. The federal aviation source said the Aer Lingus pilot has filed a near-collision report, which is required when pilots believe their plane came within 500 feet of another.
The closest distance between the two aircraft is in dispute and will be determined by the investigation. One air traffic controller, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the encounter ''exceptionally close."
Such incidents have become less frequent since collision avoidance systems, which are required on planes with 10 or more seats, were installed in the 1990s. Around the same time, more sophisticated air traffic control systems were installed at airports to replace aging systems blamed for near-collisions and other mishaps. It was unclear yesterday whether the systems alerted pilots or controllers in the Logan incident.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters confirmed that an investigation into the incident was underway, and said the NTSB is scheduled to release a preliminary report today. Several calls to the safety board yesterday were not returned.
Federal officials and officials at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport, did not disclose the near-collision until yesterday. It was not clear whether passengers aboard the planes were told of the incident.
Aer Lingus spokesman Jack Foley said the plane's flight crew contacted Logan's control tower just after the incident ''to report the close proximity of a second aircraft." The crew also called the airline's safety unit in Ireland, which reported it to Irish aviation authorities and to the NTSB, Foley said.
''We continue to cooperate fully with both agencies as they carry out their investigations," Foley said. ''The aircraft did not take any evasive maneuvers and continued on to Shannon and Dublin under a normal flight plan."
US Airways spokeswoman Amy Kudwa declined to comment while the NTSB investigation is underway, as did officials at Massport.
Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, declined to comment because the union is part of the investigation.
But the air traffic controller who spoke on condition of anonymity said mistakes were made in Logan's control tower that night and that other circumstances in the tower may have also contributed to the error.
He said that the crew in the tower was working two employees short and that air traffic controllers in charge of landings and takeoffs also had to guide and monitor aircraft delayed by bad weather, which were parked between active runways to free up gate space.
''Yes, there was an error," said the controller. ''But they were being asked to do things that maybe they shouldn't have been asked to do by shuffling aircraft between the runways."
The controller said he was told the tower was ''incredibly loud" that night, when one controller was in charge of tracking the Aer Lingus plane and another the US Airways jet. ''There was just so much information that needed to be passed around. . . . They got distracted and forgot about the task at hand and the error happened."
Last year, the FAA presented a safety award to Massport for lowering the number of incidents on Logan runways. Just three occurred in 2003, compared with 11 in 2000, including when a van ran into a parked plane, sending two people to the hospital.
But there have been other near-collisions at Logan. The most recent occurred in March, when a Delta jet stopped suddenly on a taxiway to avoid another plane. According to a preliminary NTSB report, the airplane's first officer said he told the captain to stop ''because another airplane was on the crossing runway." A flight attendant was seriously injured.
In 1988, the pilots of a Pan Am Boeing 727 on takeoff saw a commuter plane on the runway ahead and pulled into the air early at below-normal speed, barely missing the other plane.
In 1987, a commuter jet almost slammed
David Stempler -- president of the Air Travelers Association, an advocacy group for airline passengers -- said collisions at airports pose the greatest risk to fliers.
Stempler said the FAA needs to install and require better technology that could help prevent human errors.
Air traffic controllers have spoken out for years about the lack of public disclosure about what the aviation industry calls near-misses. These critics say the FAA relies on pilots to report close calls.
Lucas Wall of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Mac Daniel can be reached at email@example.com.