San Francisco, California – During the previous week, two airliners were compelled to halt landings at San Francisco International Airport, owing to an unexpected presence of a Southwest Airlines jet traversing runways that had been previously cleared for the two approaching aircraft.
An air traffic controller asserted during the May 19 incident that the Southwest pilots should not have been occupying the runways.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) addressed the situation on Thursday, stating that the Southwest aircraft had successfully cleared the runways as the other aircraft passed directly overhead, deeming the decision to abort the landings as a “precautionary” measure.
“The FAA scrutinized the events and confirmed that suitable steps were undertaken to ensure safe operations,” the agency communicated.
It has been established that the National Transportation Safety Board is not currently launching an investigation into the matter.
This occurrence is a part of a string of recent near-miss incidents currently under review by safety officials. These include a situation in February when a FedEx plane came dangerously close, approximately 100 feet (30 meters), to a Southwest jet in Austin, Texas, due to an air traffic controller giving clearance to both aircraft to use the same runway.
In the present incident, an inbound United Airlines aircraft descended to a few hundred feet (100 meters) above San Francisco Bay before its pilots noticed the Southwest jet occupying the same runway and decided to abort their landing.
Soon after this, the crew of an inbound Alaska Airlines plane noticed the same Southwest jet crossing an adjacent runway. This led them to abort their landing as well.
Both the United and Alaska aircraft were able to circle back and successfully land.
The air traffic controller communicated to the crew of the Southwest jet, “You shouldn’t be on the runway,” as captured by a recording on LiveATC.com. When one of the pilots attempted to provide an explanation, the controller interjected, stating, “I don’t need an argument.”
The San Francisco Chronicle initially reported the incident. The San Francisco airport had been the site of a near-catastrophe in 2017 when an Air Canada jet almost landed atop four aircraft awaiting takeoff due to a misunderstanding of a taxiway as their designated runway.
Despite these incidents, the acting head of the FAA continues to assure the safety of the nation’s air-traffic system, pointing to the absence of a fatal crash involving a U.S. airline since 2009.
The FAA did, however, host a “safety summit” in March due to these close-call incidents. The agency announced this week that it is investing $100 million in enhancements at 12 airports, San Francisco excluded, with the intent to decrease “runway incursions,” instances when an aircraft or airport vehicle occupies a runway inappropriately.