Last week, two planes couldn’t land at San Francisco International Airport because pilots saw a Southwest Airlines plane taxiing across fields where they were supposed to land.
During the May 19 event, a person in charge of air traffic told the Southwest pilots that they shouldn’t have been on the runways.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that the Southwest plane was clear of the runways when the other planes flew directly overhead, and the choice to cancel the landings was “precautionary.”
“After looking into what happened, the FAA found that the right steps were taken to make sure operations were safe,” the agency said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said that it is not looking into the case.
In the past six months, there have been half a dozen close calls that are being looked into by safety officials. One of these happened in February in Austin, Texas, when a FedEx plane flew about 100 feet (30 meters) over the top of a Southwest jet after an air traffic controller gave permission for both planes to use the same airport.
In the incident this month, an incoming United Airlines plane flew as low as a few hundred feet (100 meters) over San Francisco Bay before the pilots saw a Southwest jet on the same runway and chose not to land.
The tweet below verifies the news:
Two airliners aborted their landings at San Francisco International Airport last week after pilots spotted a Southwest Airlines jet taxiing across the runways on which they were going to land. The United and Alaska Airlines jets flew a few hundred feet … https://t.co/SiZmqeO8SU
— KSTP (@KSTP) May 25, 2023
Shortly after that, the crew of an Alaska Airlines plane that was about to land saw the same Southwest jet crossing a second, adjacent runway. The pilots of that plane also decided not to land because of the Southwest jet.
Both of the planes, one from United and one from Alaska, flew around and landed safely.
A recording made by LiveATC.com shows that the air traffic manager told the Southwest jet’s crew, “You shouldn’t be on the runway.” The director cut off one of the pilots when he tried to explain, saying, “I don’t need an argument.”
The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to write about the event. In 2017, there was a scary near-disaster at the San Francisco airport. The pilots of an Air Canada jet mistook a taxiway for their runway and almost landed on four other planes that were ready to take off.
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Even though there have been some close calls recently, the acting head of the FAA said that the country’s air traffic system is safe, pointing out that no U.S. plane has been in a fatal crash since 2009.
But the FAA held a “safety summit” in March because of the close calls. This week, the agency said it will spend $100 million to improve 12 airports, but not San Francisco’s. The goal is to cut down on “runway incursions,” which happen when an airplane or airport car is on a runway when it shouldn’t be.
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