SAN FRANCISCO – Two planes aborted landings last week at San Francisco International Airport after pilots spotted a Southwest Airlines aircraft taxiing on runways where the other planes were cleared to land.
Southwest Pilots were told by an air traffic controller that they shouldn’t have been on the runways when the incident occurred on May 19, 2005.
The Federal Aviation Administration stated Thursday that Southwest’s plane cleared the runways as the other planes flew directly overhead. They also said the decision to abort landings was taken “precautionary.”
The FAA said it had investigated the incident and taken the necessary steps to ensure a safe operation.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said that it will not be investigating this matter.
Safety officials are investigating a half dozen close calls that occurred in recent months. One of those incidents occurred in February when a FedEx jet flew 100 feet above a Southwest Jet in Austin, Texas after an air traffic controller cleared both planes for the same runway.
In this incident, a United Airlines jet flying inbound flew low over San Francisco Bay for a few hundred meters before the pilots noticed the Southwest jet landing on the same runway. They decided to abandon the landing.
The crew of the incoming Alaska Airlines flight saw the Southwest jet cross a parallel runway and aborted its landing as well.
The United and Alaska aircraft both circled and landed safely.
According to a recording made by LiveATC.com, the air traffic controller said “You shouldn’t even be on the runway” when he spoke with the Southwest jet crew. The controller cut off the pilot when he tried to explain. “I don’t want an argument.”
San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report this incident. In 2017, the San Francisco airport was a scene of a near-disaster when Air Canada pilots mistook their taxiway as their runway, and nearly landed four other planes that were waiting to takeoff.
The acting FAA head has stated that despite recent close call the air traffic system in the United States is safe. He cited the fact that there have not been any fatal crashes involving an American airline since 2009.
Concern about close calls prompted the FAA to host a “safety conference” in March. The FAA announced this week that it will invest $100 million to improve 12 airports, but not San Francisco. This is in order to decrease the number of runway incursions.