Saturday, November 29, 2014

U.S. Runway Close Calls Soar

Near runway collisions involving commercial airplanes climbed two-thirds from 2003 to 2013 at U.S. airports to a rate of nearly one per day, as a shift to major hubs led to increased traffic in most of those cities, according to a USA TODAY review of federal data.
The most severe incidents, like a 2011 close call at Chicago Midway International Airport where a departing jet narrowly missed a taxiing Boeing 737 by 62 feet, are down and officials say that shows progress.
There were 341 reported runway incidents – known in the aviation industry as "runway incursions" – involving at least one foreign or domestic commercial flight last year. In six of those incidents, a plane encountered a severe risk of a crash. In the rest, the incidents were less serious but deemed by federal officials to present a collision hazard.
The three airports with the most runway incursions since 2003 are also the nation's busiest: Chicago's O'Hare International, Los Angeles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. The growth in reported runway incidents nationwide occurred even as the overall number of flights remained relatively flat.
Though there have not been any fatal crashes involving domestic airlines since 2009, officials and experts say the possibility of an accident on the ground remains a concern.
"Runway incursions are always at the top of the list" when it comes to aviation safety issues, said Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
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A number of recent events have raised alarms about potential dangers on the nation's runways, taxiways and other tarmac areas. Among them:
On Oct. 22, two Delta Air Lines planes clipped wings while taxiing on their way to depart from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
On Oct. 5, a Delta jet with 44 passengers was clipped by a Royal Jordanian Airlines Airbus A330 carrying 159 passengers at JFK Airport in New York.
In May 2013, a United Express flight and a Scandinavian Airlines Airbus A330 struck each other on a taxiway at Newark Liberty International Airport.
In April 2011, an Air France A380 jet taxiing to the runway at JFK Airport hit the tail of a regional jet, spinning the smaller aircraft 90 degrees.
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