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Federal authorities are investigating another near runway collision between planes

  • By David Schaper/NPR

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating another near collision between passenger jets this week.

The pilots of a Mesa Airlines plane abandoned a landing attempt at the Burbank, Calif., airport Wednesday and initiated a go-around to avoid a Sky West jet that had been cleared by air traffic control to take off on the same runway.

No damage or injuries were reported, but this is at least the fourth such runway incursion that could have resulted in a deadly crash at a U.S. airport since mid-January, raising significant safety concerns among lawmakers and within the aviation industry.

According to the FAA, an air traffic controller cleared a SkyWest Airlines Embraer E175 to take off from Runway 33 at the Hollywood Burbank Airport around 6:55 p.m. local time. At the same time, a Mesa Airlines Bombardier CRJ900 was approaching to land on the same runway and was approximately 1.3 miles out from the airport.

“The Mesa pilot discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out,” the FAA says in a statement. “Meanwhile, the SkyWest aircraft continued with its departure, which prompted an automated alert to sound on the flight deck of the Mesa aircraft. The controller instructed the Mesa crew to turn to a course that took it away from the other aircraft.”

The incident is similar to one at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas during a dense fog on the morning of Feb. 4. A FedEx cargo jet was cleared to land on the same runway that a Southwest Airlines passenger jet was already on and beginning its roll to take off. The FedEx pilot pulled up just in time as the NTSB says the two airplanes came within 100 feet of one another.

On Jan. 13, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, an American Airlines plane mistakenly crossed an active runway on which a Delta Air Lines jet was just beginning to take off. Air traffic controllers issued an urgent warning for the Delta pilots to abort, which they did, coming within roughly 1,400 feet from the American jetliner.

And at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on Jan. 23, a United Airlines plane crossed a runway that a private Cessna plane was landing on.

The close calls — along with the failure of a critical FAA pilot notification system in January that led to an hours-long, nationwide ground stop of departing flights — raised alarm bells in Congress, as lawmakers in both chambers held hearings on the matters in recent weeks.

The aviation safety concerns will again be front and center next week. On Wednesday, the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a long-awaited hearing on Phillip A. Washington, President Biden’s nominee to head the FAA.

Washington is currently the chief executive of the Denver International Airport, a post he has held for less than two years after a long career in mass transit leadership. Republicans have already sharply criticized the pick, citing Washington’s lack of experience in aviation.

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