Planes in Florida Close Call Were Cleared to Use Same Runway

Planes in Florida Close Call Were Cleared to Use Same Runway
The American Airlines logo on top of the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Dec. 19, 2017. (Michael Ainsworth/AP Photo)

Federal investigators say an air traffic controller cleared a plane to take off from Sarasota, Florida, while an American Airlines jet was making its final approach to the same runway last month, leading the American pilots to abandon their landing.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that the American and Air Canada Rouge planes were separated by six-tenths of a mile—about 3,000 feet (900 meters)—at their closest point. That is much farther apart than planes in several recent close calls.

In its preliminary report, the safety board did not state a cause for the Feb. 16 incident, but it said it formed a group to investigate air traffic controller actions. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Federal Aviation Administration, which hires and trains controllers, are taking part in the investigation, the NTSB said.

The early findings came a day after officials from the NTSB, the FAA, airlines, and airline unions met outside Washington for a “safety summit.”

Bella Dinh-Zarr
National Transportation Safety Board Member Bella Dinh-Zarr speaks during a news conference at the National Transportation Safety Board headquarters in Washington on Dec. 18, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

According to an FAA readout of summit sessions that were closed to the public and press, a group that discussed air traffic recommended closer examination of data to find the causes and solutions for planes being on or near the same runway at the same time. The FAA said it asked industry to find technology to help air traffic controllers track equipment on the ground.

The NTSB is investigating six recent events involving conflicting runway use. The board did not start any similar investigations in 2022 and only two in 2021, according to a spokesman.

Overall runway incursions, as they are called, are lower in the last six months than the same period last year, according to FAA figures, but those include the vast majority of incidents that are deemed low- or no-risk.

In Sarasota, a controller cleared the American Airlines flight to land on runway 14 when the plane was about 10 miles from the airport. When it was about 3 miles out, the controller cleared the Air Canada Rouge plane to take off from the same runway.

The American crew elected to cancel their landing, turn to the right and return to land. No injuries were reported.