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near miss at Boston Logan Airport

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 of a near-crash of two jets at Logan

Intersecting takeoffs OK'd

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the near-collision earlier this month of two passenger jets mistakenly cleared to take off at the same time on intersecting runways at Logan International Airport.

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 Boeing 737 carrying 103 passengers to Philadelphia. At the planes' speed, they were within seconds of colliding, aviation officials said.

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 into a Northwest Airlines DC-9 at Logan after the commuter jet was given clearance to land as the DC-9 was taxiing across the runway.

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 mdaniel@globe.com.

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Four near hits on LAX runways revive safety concerns


Associated Press

 

Airplanes have come alarmingly close to each other four times in the last month at Los Angeles International Airport, reviving concerns about safety at an airport with an outdated and confusing runway layout, according to newspaper reports.

City and airport officials blamed the near hits - the first since November - on human error and a 14 percent increase in the number of international flights in May and June. The incidents were reported Friday by both the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

None of the errors resulted in accidents and aviation officials say passengers weren't in immediate danger.

"Given what we know so far, no one on any of these planes was really in any danger," said Donn Walker, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. "But we have pretty stringent safety parameters, and they were violated and that does concern us."

LAX has long been known among pilots for its challenging configuration, which includes two sets of parallel runways on the south and north sides. Airplanes that land on the outer runways must cross the inner runways, where jets take off, to reach the terminals.

From 2000 to 2003, LAX led the nation in near hits between aircraft. From 1997 to 2000, the airport recorded 13 serious near crashes on the ground - the most among the nation's busiest airports.

Near hits between aircraft have declined since airport officials launched an intensive campaign to educate pilots and added lighting and warning signals on the airfield.

In 2003, LAX posted 11 incidents. Five were recorded in 2004, three of them in the same month last summer.

One of the more serious recent incidents happened at 9:45 p.m. Sunday when the pilot of a United Express jet bound for Santa Barbara aborted his takeoff and slammed on his brakes to avoid a Continental Express jet that had moved too close to the runway. The United plane stopped just 100 feet from the Continental aircraft.

The other three incidents, which occurred since May 23, also involved aircraft crossing or moving too close to a runway where an airplane was readying for takeoff. Two of those occurred on the south side and one on the north side.

_ On May 23 at 8:13 p.m. an American Eagle turboprop took off on the inner runway as an American Airlines 757 from Newark was taxing across the same runway. The planes came within about 4,500 feet of each other.

_ On Tuesday at 2:45 p.m., a United 737 edged past bars separating the inner and outer runways as an American Airlines was taking off on the inner runway. The controller decided it was too late to abort takeoff. The American MD-80 came within 350 to 400 feet of the United jet.

_ On Wednesday at 1:13 p.m., Southwest Airlines flight 2197 landed on the outer runway on the airport's north side. Controllers cleared another Southwest jet to take off on the inner runway. During a mix-up, the landing jet come within 200 feet of the departing jet.

Officials hope to correct the problems on the airport's south side by moving the southernmost runway 55 feet and building a taxiway down the middle. That project is part of the first phase of an $11 billion plan to modernize LAX. 

        
 
 

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