Two passenger planes aborted landings at San Francisco International Airport last week after pilots spotted a Southwest Airlines plane traveling through runways where other planes had been cleared.
The air traffic controller told the Southwest pilots that they should not have been on the runways during the May 19 incident.
The FAA said Thursday that the Southwest plane had cleared the runways when other planes passed directly overhead, and that the decision to abort the landing was “precautionary.”
“The FAA has reviewed the events and has determined to take appropriate steps to ensure safe operations,” the agency said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was not investigating the matter.
The incident follows six close calls in recent months that are being investigated by safety officials. Those include one in February, in which a FedEx plane soared 100 feet (30 meters) over the top of a Southwest Airlines plane in Austin, Texas, after an air traffic controller cleared both planes to use the same runway.
In the incident this month, a United Airlines plane flew up to a few hundred feet (100 meters) above San Francisco Bay before the pilots saw a Southwest plane on the same runway and decided to abandon their landing.
Shortly thereafter, the crew of an Alaska Airlines plane saw the same Southwest plane cross a second, parallel runway, and the pilots aborted their landing as well.
Both the United States and Alaska planes circled it and landed safely.
“You shouldn’t be on the runway,” the air traffic controller told the Southwest flight crew, according to a recording recorded by LiveATC.com. When one of the pilots tried to explain, the controller cut him off, saying, “You don’t need to discuss.”
The incident was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco Airport was the scene of a near-fearful disaster in 2017, when pilots of an Air Canada jet mistook a taxiway for their runway and nearly crash-landed on top of four other planes waiting to take off.
Despite recent close calls, the FAA’s acting head said the country’s air traffic system is safe, noting that no fatal crash involving a US airline has occurred since 2009.
However, concern about close invites led the FAA to convene a “Safety Summit” in March. The agency said this week it is investing $100 million in improvements at 12 airports — but not San Francisco — to reduce the number of “runway intrusions,” when an airplane or airport vehicle is on a runway when it shouldn’t be.
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