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US NTSB to probe Wednesday's near-miss between planes at Washington airport

Published 05/31/2024, 05:54 PM
Updated 05/31/2024, 05:55 PM
© Reuters.

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Transportation Safety Board said on Friday it will open an investigation into a near-collision earlier this week between an American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) jet and a small airplane at Reagan Washington National Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier that an air traffic controller on Wednesday had canceled takeoff clearance for American Airlines Flight 2134 - an Airbus A319 - because a Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air was cleared to land on an intersecting runway at the airport. Reagan has the busiest runway in the nation.

"We will thoroughly investigate," FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said on Thursday.

American Airlines said on Friday "the safety of our customers and team members is our top priority, and we’re grateful to our crew for their professionalism. We will support the FAA and NTSB in their investigations."

The NTSB has opened investigations into more than a half dozen near-miss incidents since January 2023 that raised concerns about U.S. aviation safety and the strain on understaffed air traffic control.

A persistent shortage of controllers has delayed flights and raised safety concerns. At many facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day weeks to cover staffing shortages. The FAA wants $43 million to accelerate hiring and training of controllers and has sought to impose new rest requirements.

Staffing issues forced the FAA to extend cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2024 - allowing airlines to fly fewer flights without forfeiting take-off and landing slots. Airlines have asked for the waiver to be extended by another year.

The NTSB will hold a June 6 hearing to determine the probable cause of a February 2023 near-miss incident involving a FedEx (NYSE:FDX) cargo plane and a Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) jet in Austin, Texas.

The two planes nearly collided when the FedEx Boeing (NYSE:BA) 767 was forced to fly over the Southwest jet to avoid a crash in poor visibility conditions. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said last year the planes came within about 115 feet (35 meters) of each other in what could have been a "terrible tragedy."

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