“Flying is safer than driving” is a calming stat often rolled out to nervous fliers by friends and family—and for years, it’s been true.
According to data compiled by The Economist in 2015 the probability of your plane going down is around 1 in 5.4 million. Conversely, the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts says the odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 93. The data also reveal you’re more likely to die from choking on food or being stung by a bee than you are to die in a plane crash, the odds of which are “too few to calculate.”
However, 2023 has been dominated by headlines of near misses, with a handful of close calls already being reviewed by federal investigators. The boom in runway incidents has occurred despite tens of thousands of planes being grounded across the U.S. owing to weather warnings and software issues.
This series of incidents played a central role as President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington—attended a federal hearing this week to establish whether he’s fit for the job. Sen. Ted Cruz probed the candidate on technical questions around near-miss and fatal crashes.
Should Washington land the job, here are the investigations already sitting in his in-tray.
Boston, Feb. 27
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating an incident at Logan International Airport, in Boston, after a Learjet 60 began takeoff as a JetBlue Embraer 190 was preparing to land on a connected runway. No damage or injuries were reported, NTSB added in a tweet.
In a statement to Fox Business, the FAA cited a preliminary review and added: “The pilot of a Learjet 60 took off without clearance while JetBlue Flight 206 was preparing to land on an intersecting runway.
“An air traffic controller instructed the pilot of the Learjet to line up and wait on Runway 9 while the JetBlue Embraer 190 landed on Runway 4-Right, which intersects Runway 9. The Learjet pilot read back the instructions clearly but began a takeoff roll instead.“
The incident, the FAA noted, had forced the JetBlue pilot to take “evasive action.” A JetBlue spokesperson told Fortune that JetBlue Flight 206 “landed safely in Boston after our pilots were instructed to perform a go-around by air traffic controllers.”
A go-around is an aborted landing of an aircraft which is already on its final approach or has touched down.
Burbank, Calif., Feb. 22
A Mesa Airlines pilot was forced to initiate a go-around when attempting to land at California’s Hollywood Burbank Airport.
According to preliminary information obtained by NBC News, an air traffic controller cleared a SkyWest Airlines flight to depart ahead of the Mesa crew, which was 1.3 miles away on its runway approach.
The Mesa pilot climbed out of its descent thus allowing the SkyWest aircraft to depart—a controller then guided the Mesa crew away from the SkyWest flight. Mesa and SkyWest did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
NTSB investigating Feb. 22 runway incursion at Bob Hope Burbank Airport that occurred when a Skywest Embraer 175 was departing Runway 33 as a Mesa Airlines CRJ9 executed a pilot-initiated go-around as it was inbound for landing on the same runway. No damage or injuries reported.— NTSB Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) February 24, 2023
Austin, Feb. 4
A Southwest Airlines passenger jet and a FedEx cargo plane came as close as 100 feet at the Texas capital’s airport, a top federal investigator said.
The FedEx Boeing 767 had been cleared to use the same runway as a departing Southwest Boeing 737 when the FedEx crew realized just in time that they were “overflying the Southwest plane,” Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CNN.
“I’m very proud of the FedEx flight crew and that pilot. They saved, in my view, 128 people from a potential catastrophe,” she added. “It was very close, and we believe less than 100 feet.”
The FedEx crew aborted its landing and climbed back into the air after telling the Southwest flight to stay on the ground.
A Southwest spokesperson told Fortune: “We appreciate the NTSB’s review of this event, and Southwest will continue cooperating with the investigation as safety is always our uncompromising priority.”
Honolulu, Jan. 23
The FAA has classified an incident involving a United Airlines 777 jet and a smaller cargo plane at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport—also known as the Honolulu Airport—as category C. This means the incident allowed for “ample time and/or distance to avoid a collision.”
The NTSB has however decided to launch an investigation after the United jet crossed the airport without authorization. An FAA note shared with Fortune confirms the planes were 2,170 feet apart at their closest proximity. The airline referred Fortune to the NTSB when approached for comment.
NTSB investigating Jan. 23 runway incursion at Honolulu Int’l Airport that occurred when a United Boeing 777 crossed runway 4L and conflicted with Cessna 208B that was landing on runway 4L. No damage or injuries reported.— NTSB Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) February 15, 2023
New York, Jan. 13
A Delta Air Lines flight carrying 145 customers and six crew members aborted its takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 13 after an American Airlines Boeing 777 taxied in front of it.
The flight, bound for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, stopped within 1,000 feet of the other plane, the FAA told CNN.
The FAA said in a statement that air traffic controllers had “noticed another aircraft crossing the runway in front of the departing jetliner” and canceled takeoff clearance.
In a statement to Fortune a Delta spokesperson said: “The safety of our customers and crew is always Delta’s number one priority. Delta will work with and assist aviation authorities on a full review of flight 1943 on Jan. 13 regarding a successful aborted takeoff procedure at New York–JFK. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and delay of their travels.”
An American Airlines spokesperson told Fortune: “The safety of our customers and team members is our top priority, and we are cooperating with the NTSB in its investigation of American Airlines flight 106.”
Baltimore, Jan. 12
According to FAA data, an incident at Baltimore–Washington International Airport was classed as a category B event, which the FAA defines as: “An incident in which separation decreases and there is a significant potential for collision, which may result in a time critical corrective/evasive response to avoid a collision.” The event consisted of a vehicle crossing the runway when it was not authorized to do so while a Boeing 737 was taking off.
The incident report added: “At the time, the vehicle was on taxiway Y approximately 57 feet from the runway’s west edge, and traveling at 45 knots. The closest estimated horizontal separation occurred at a distance of 173 feet.”
Santa Barbara, Jan. 9
FAA data shows an incident at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport that was similarly classed as a category B event. According to Politico, air traffic controllers cleared a Boeing 737 to land on the runway while a vehicle was performing an inspection. The FAA review adds the aircraft “went around and overflew the vehicle by approximately 100 to 200 feet.”
The NTSB has confirmed it is not investigating the events of Jan. 9 or Jan. 12 but that this could change if new information comes to light.
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