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Aircraft in Florida were allowed to use the same runway


Federal investigators say an air traffic controller cleared a plane for takeoff from Sarasota, Florida, while an American Airlines plane made its final approach to the same runway last month, forcing the American pilots to abandon their landing.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that the American and Air Canada Rouge planes were six-tenths of a mile — about 3,000 feet (900 meters) — apart at their closest point. That’s much further apart than planes in several recent close calls.

In its preliminary report, the Security Council did not identify a cause for the February 16 incident, but said it had formed a group to investigate the air traffic controller’s actions. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Federal Aviation Administration, which hires and trains air traffic controllers, are participating in the investigation, the NTSB said.

The early findings came a day after officials from the NTSB, FAA, airlines and airline unions met outside Washington, D.C. for a “safety summit.”

According to an FAA readout of summit sessions closed to the public and the press, a group discussing air traffic recommended that we look closer at the data to find the causes and solutions for aircraft simultaneously on or near the same runway. The FAA said it asked the industry to find technology to help air traffic controllers track equipment on the ground.

The NTSB is investigating six recent incidents of conflicting runway use. The board launched no similar investigations in 2022 and only two in 2021, a spokesman said.

The total number of runway incursions, as they’re called, is down in the past six months from the same period last year, according to FAA figures, but that includes the vast majority of incidents considered low or no risk.

In Sarasota, an air traffic controller cleared the American Airlines flight to land on runway 14 when the plane was about 10 miles from the airport. When it was about 5 kilometers away, the controller cleared the Air Canada Rouge aircraft to take off from the same runway.

The American crew chose to cancel their landing, turn right and return to land. No injuries were reported.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.