The headline said it all — “Chilling Account of Near-Miss, Close Call of Military Plane, American Airlines Jet Highlights Air Traffic Lapses.” The Aug. 6, 2012 article by The Wall Street Journal reports of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report released last week revealing what the paper called “alarming details” about air traffic controller errors.
In particular, the NTSB released a report about the near mid-air collission between an American Airlines jet and a military cargo plane off the East Coast in January, 2011. Mistakes and miscommunications by air traffic controllers indicated that the two planes were barreling to converge on a crash course in the dark off the coast of New York at 22,000 feet. The two pilots were unaware of the crash course for at least a minute, according to the NTSB report.
More than 250 people were aboard the American Airlines commercial Boeing 777 jet headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The controller lost track of the passenger plane when it was about 88 miles east of New York City while giving directions to another jet. The cargo jet’s wing tip passed about 2,000 feet to the left of the passenger jet less than the required 1,000 feet apart vertically and several miles laterally.
The American Airlines’ on-board collision-avoidance systems alerted the pilots of that plane of the impending crash, which prompted them to make three separate evasive maneuvers in seconds. American Airlines Flight 951 had departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport while the Air Force C-17 cargo plane was heading northwest over the Atlantic Ocean to the military base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst near Wrightstown, New Jersey, in a different air space handled by a different controller. It was in formation with another C-17. Neither cargo jet took evasive action.
The incident followed about a dozen other mid-air close calls over the past two years that are being investigated by the federal agency. Safety experts and officials are examining whether controllers are inadequately trained or overtired, according to The Wall Street Journal article. Total air traffic controllers’ errors reported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last year were about 80 percent higher than five years ago, including mishaps on the ground.
”Safety experts believe the dangers from such errors are likely to increase as air traffic grows and the FAA consolidates facilities to transition to a new, satellite-based control system,” The Wall Street Journal reported in the article by reporter Andy Pasztor.