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Federal Accident Investigators Release Pilot Testimony

The National Transportation Safety Board recently released the testimony of the pilots involved in two separate near mid-air collisions out of O’Hare earlier this year. The pilots referred to the potential collisions as “near misses” and testified that the air traffic controllers involved did not issue warnings until after the pilots identified the danger and took evasive action. No injuries resulted from the incidents in question and the Federal Aviation Administration has not levied any discipline against the air traffic controllers involved.

The two near collisions occurred on the same two runways, less than three months apart. A manager at the O’Hare tower informed the NTSB that air traffic controller mistakes involving planes taking off and landing on those two runways had been a problem in the past. Among the actions taken by the FAA following the two situations was to place the air traffic controllers handling those two runways in positions adjacent to one another. The proximity may help to reduce or eliminate confusion regarding the time of takeoffs and landings.

The Federal Aviation Administration has a policy of not punishing air traffic controllers after close calls. The goal of the policy is to encourage controllers to be forthright about near misses and other safety incidents. Controllers who are involved in such incidents are given further training to help them improve the safety of air travel and the procedures that may have encouraged the lapses are reviewed.

Investigators also discussed the potential that O’Hare controllers were distracted by the arrival of the Vice President’s plane which had occurred earlier than scheduled. When questioned about the issue, one of the controllers involved indicated that a near miss of that type would not happen in the future.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Pilots Say Controllers’ Warnings Were Late,” by Andy Pasztor, 25 September 2012

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