NTSB investigates near collision at O'Hare

July 23, 2008 4:13:56 PM PDT
Federal Aviation safety experts are looking into a near midair collision on Monday in the airspace over O'Hare Airport. Safety officials want to know how an American Eagle passenger jet and a private jet were able to travel within a few hundred feet of one another.

No one was injured in Monday's incident but it has prompted new procedures at O'Hare.

The Monday close call at O'Hare involved a private Learjet and a Peoria-bound regional jet with 43 passengers and a crew of three. No one was hurt, but the National Transportation Safety Board says it was a serious event. There were two similar incidents at New York's Kennedy Airport earlier this month and because runway safety is priority one for the safety board, it's sending a team of investigators to Chicago to examine what happened at O'Hare.

The incident took place Monday afternoon just before 1 p.m. on the northern side of O'Hare. An American Eagle regional jet was cleared for take-off on runway 32-left. At the same time a corporate Learjet was landing on runway 9-right which is an intersecting runway.

The tower controller in charge of both aircrafts was apparently unaware that the Learjet was so close to landing. Another controller, monitoring the flights, saw what was happening. The Learjet pilot was told to abort his landing and do a "go-around". The American Eagle pilot was told to stay low after his lift off.

The NTSB says radar shows the Learjet passed about 325 feet above and slightly behind the regional jet. The NTSB calls it a near-miss - a serious event. The Federal Aviation Administration classifies it as an operational error, in this case by a veteran controller. Before the Learjet's approach, 20 minutes had passed with no activity at all on runway 9-right. Investigators will want to know the level of communication between the Tracon, another air traffic control center in Elgin which was directing the Learjet earlier, and the tower controller.

The FAA has already instituted a couple of procedural changes in communication between the Tracon and the tower at O'Hare.

But the big picture here is the growing number of close calls at big airports with intersecting runways. As in the past, they seem to come in bunches. The NTSB will be looking to see if there's anything systemic that needs fixing.


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