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FAA Investigates Near Collision 777 and C-17s

Old 02-05-2011, 07:31 AM
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Default FAA Investigates Near Collision 777 and C-17s

From Washington Post:

WASHINGTON — An American Airlines jumbo jet carrying 259 people narrowly missed colliding with two 200-ton military cargo jets over New York last month, after a distracted air traffic controller failed to heed a colleague's warning, official records show.

Cockpit alarms went off aboard the Boeing 777 airliner, instructing it to descend, and the controller directing the two C-17s ordered them to make an "immediate" right turn. Under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, use of the word immediate is allowed only when a collision is imminent.

An FAA official familiar with the incident said the command was a last resort when dealing with massive planes like the three involved.

"They don't maneuver like fighter jets," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "You definitely would not do it to a flight of two heavy jets unless you had no other choice. American got a cockpit alarm to descend. That may be what saved the day."

The incident's severity resulted in an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency more commonly associated with investigation of plane crashes. The NTSB began reviewing midair near-collisions last year and questioned the reliability of the FAA reporting system.

FAA spokeswoman Sasha Johnson said the agency was reviewing the incident.

"As a result of the FAA's preliminary investigation, all air traffic operational personnel at New York Center are already reviewing a variety of procedures," she said.

The Jan. 20 incident involved an American Airlines plane carrying 247 passengers and 12 crew members that had just taken off from John F. Kennedy International Airport for a night flight to São Paulo, Brazil. The two Air Force cargo planes were on a northwest course, beginning to descend to land at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

The near-collision occurred about 80 miles southeast of New York City, after responsibility for the American Airlines flight was handed off to controllers responsible for managing planes at cruising altitude.

In control centers directing planes at that altitude, responsibility for each geographical sector is divided between a controller who watches the radar and one who monitors data coming from all aircraft in the sector.

The American plane had been instructed to climb to 22,000 feet. When the data controller saw a potential for collision he asked the radar controller to halt the climb at 20,000 feet, but the radar controller was distracted by information coming in from a Continental Airlines flight and did not hear the message, official records show.

Unaware of the imminent collision, the American flight continued to climb until its cockpit alarm went off, records show.

Two FAA reports said the planes came within 2,000 yards. The NTSB review said radar showed the distance was closer to a mile. Though in most instances controllers are required to keep a minimum of three miles and 1,000 feet of altitude between commercial planes, FAA regulations call for a greater distance between planes flying near military formations.

The NTSB is investigating almost a dozen midair near-collisions that have occurred nationally since it mandated in March that they be reported.

They include an incident 24,000 feet over Maryland on March 25, when a Continental Airlines 737 came within about a mile of colliding with a Gulfstream jet.
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Old 02-06-2011, 08:05 PM
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Are C-17s equipped with TCAS?
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:58 AM
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Are the crews equipped with eyeballs and a window?
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Old 02-07-2011, 07:25 PM
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So they came within a mile of one another. Since when is that big news? In the terminal area we fly very close to one another. Isn't 2000ft the lateral separation minimum anyhow? Am I missing something here?
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Old 02-08-2011, 03:33 AM
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Originally Posted by afterburn81 View Post
So they came within a mile of one another. Since when is that big news? In the terminal area we fly very close to one another. Isn't 2000ft the lateral separation minimum anyhow? Am I missing something here?
In this situation the required later separation was 6 miles--the basic 5 miles using a long-range radar plus a mile for a standard formation flight. Or a 1000' vertically.
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Old 02-08-2011, 08:46 AM
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Originally Posted by afterburn81 View Post
So they came within a mile of one another. Since when is that big news? In the terminal area we fly very close to one another. Isn't 2000ft the lateral separation minimum anyhow? Am I missing something here?

I think the point is this; they would have hit each other if the 777 hadn't responded to the RA.
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Old 02-16-2011, 07:19 PM
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Originally Posted by fiveninerzero View Post
Are C-17s equipped with TCAS?
Yes, and given their distance from one another, lead was probably in TA only.
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