Burbank aborted landing is latest of close calls for U.S. flights

A flight that arrived at Hollywood Burbank Airport this week was forced to abort its landing about 1,000 feet above the runway after an air traffic controller simultaneously cleared another flight to take off, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Mesa Airlines’ aborted landing was the latest in a series of mistakes at US flights and airports that have resulted in near misses between planes and left passengers holding their breath. But the high-profile incidents don’t necessarily mean there’s a trend toward more errors, according to the FAA and aviation experts, who say it’s still the safest time to fly in history.

“There are many airports in the United States and many daily takeoffs and landings – on the order of 5,000. So have one or two [issues] occurring within a week is not a large number compared to the total,” said Robert Ditchey, an aviation expert and former Navy pilot.

The Mesa Airlines flight was 1.3 miles from Burbank Airport when it was forced to regain altitude to avoid a collision with a SkyWest Airlines Embraer E175 that skidded off the runway around 6:55 p.m. Wednesday 33 took off, the FAA said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, it said on Friday.

The problem was likely “human error” by the air traffic controller who cleared the SkyWest flight to take off when another flight came in to land, Ditchey said. Still, he added, if he had landed on a clear path, the pilot on the Mesa plane would have been the final decision maker.

Aborting a landing while still at 1,000 feet is easy for pilots, Ditchey said.

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“People should be grateful that the security system, as developed and experienced in this country, worked as it should,” he said. “Give credit where credit is due. There was no accident. We should be happy. We’re damn good at avoiding accidents in the United States.”

The aborted landing comes just a month after a Delta flight taking off from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport nearly hit an American Airlines flight that was crossing the runway at the same time. The Delta plane stalled about 1,000 feet before hitting the other, according to the FAA.

In December, a United Airlines flight en route from Maui to San Francisco nearly crashed into the Pacific shortly after takeoff under mysterious circumstances. The FAA said there was nothing wrong with the plane and that the pilots received “additional training” after the incident, which saw the plane plummet from 2,200 feet to 775 feet above the water in less than 20 seconds.

And earlier this month, a taxiing American Airlines plane collided with a shuttle bus on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, injuring four people.

The FAA apparently took note of some of the issues on Valentine’s Day when it cited “recent events” as reason for a renewed review of its safety practices.

“We need to ensure our structure is fit for the US aerospace system of today and tomorrow. For this reason, I am forming a safety review team to examine the structure, culture, processes, systems and integration of safety efforts in the US aerospace system,” said Billy Nolen, acting administrator of the FAA, in a memorandum to the board of directors FAA.

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The memo said it would focus on the “internal processes, systems, and operational integration” of the Air Traffic Organization, the arm of the FAA that oversees air traffic controllers, technicians, and engineers.

“We know that our aviation system is changing dramatically. Now is the time to act,” Nolen wrote.


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