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Airliners 100 feet from colliding

A Delta plane nearly lands on a US Airways plane waiting to take off in Fort Lauderdale.

©Washington Post

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


WASHINGTON -- A landing Delta Air Lines wide-body jetliner barely missed colliding with a US Airways plane that had been told to taxi onto a runway to await takeoff from Fort Lauderdale, officials said Sunday.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the March 4 incident. A spokesman said the agency has tentatively decided that an air traffic controller committed an error. The agency also has determined that the two jets were within about 100 feet of a collision as the Delta Boeing 767-400 from Atlanta passed over the US Airways Boeing 737-200 preparing for takeoff to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Questions remain about the 10:15 p.m. incident, an example of the type of potential runway disaster that has become a growing concern for regulators, airlines and aviation safety groups as controllers attempt to accommodate a growing number of flights.

This case involving the Delta and US Airways jetliners perhaps avoided becoming a disaster because of the runway configuration at Fort Lauderdale. The runway that was in use, Runway 27 Right, has a 600-foot extension called a "displaced threshold." This extra runway space can be used for planes taking off or awaiting takeoff, but cannot be used by landing jets in calculating where to touch down on the runway.

It was unclear what might have happened if the US Airways plane had been sitting 600 feet farther down the runway toward the Delta touchdown point, as it would have been on any runway without a displaced threshold. The FAA did not know how many passengers were aboard the planes.

FAA spokesman William Shumann said the controller told US Airways MetroJet Flight 2627 to "taxi into position and hold" on Runway 27 Right. He told the US Airways crew that a Delta plane, Flight 323 from Atlanta, was descending to land on the same runway on a "5-mile final," meaning the Delta plane was approaching from 5 miles away.

It is a common air traffic control practice to prepare a plane for takeoff while advising the crew that another plane was approaching. A 5-mile approach should have given the US Airways plane plenty of time to take off.

However, the US Airways crew radioed the tower that the Delta plane had "just landed right over the top of us," Shumann said.

Shumann said he was uncertain how much time elapsed between the radio transmissions, a key element in the inquiry. It also was unclear why the Delta plane did not see the US Airways plane on the runway or whether the Delta crew could have heard the radio transmissions.

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