How Many Close Calls On Runways And Airways Is Too Many?

Aviation comes with a lot of risks that when managed appropriately, can be an extremely safe way to travel and fly. To stay safe the industry needs highly skilled, highly competent & well trained operators.

Unfortunately 2017/2018 has already seen an alarming amount of close calls where aircraft have nearly collided at or near major airports. If this spate of incidents is anything to go by, I fear a catastrophic incident is likely.
Everyone in the aviation world knows what I’m on about if I mention Tenerife. In 1977, two 747’s collided on the runway, killing 583 people. Still the deadliest accident in aviation history.

These are reported incidents from this year, remembering its only till February.

Aspen, Colorado – A Dassault Falcon 2000 lands on the snow beside runway 15.

San Francisco – Aeromexico 737-800 almost landed on wrong, occupied runway. Read back from pilot was correct for approach to 28R, but approached on 28L with Virgin America A320 lined up for departure.

Canary Islands – A Piper PA-28 and an ATR 72-600 came within 1 mile of each other due to 2 ATC controllers communicating on different frequencies.

Helsinki – Finnish Air ATR 72 with 64 POB was cleared and took off with 3 snow removal vehicles occupying the runway. Imagine being one of those guys having to jump for your life with a plane coming straight at you.
9.5miles from Sudbury Airport, Canada – Two Dash 8’s come within 0.4NM of each other. One is on IFR approach, the other on a VFR departure. ATC operational procedures did not regard the active runway when clearing IFR approaches. The radar controller also had his screen zoomed out so that turns weren’t immediately noticeable.
Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok International Airport- An A330 with 267 POB was cleared for take off but had to abort as a 747-8 was crossing the runway.

Tel Aviv – A US Army Huron turned on an incorrect heading following take off, almost colliding with an inbound FedEx 757, which aborted the approach.

Helsinki (again) – A Finnair Embraer 190 cleared to land with a Challenger 600 entering the runway. Finnair was forced to go around.

Not forgetting Air Canada Flight 759 that came within 100ft of landing on an occupied taxiway in San Francisco. There were four airliners loaded with passengers that could have been involved in what may have been a terrible tragedy, the worst ever in fact.

Can we see a pattern developing here? What factors are contributing to these incidents? Stress, fatigue, inadequate training, loss of situational awareness, operational pressures, incorrect procedures, weather. Each incident has different mechanisms of failure, some more serious than others. Individually they are serious, collectively these ring alarm bells for something big about to happen if the causes are not recognised and dealt with.
A common denominator here is air traffic control related issues. Why are there so many? Is it due to more aircraft, busier schedules, longer hours without the ATC industry being able to catch up? Are there enough controllers? Are they operating on best practices?

Lots of questions without a clear solution. Let’s not lay all of the blame on Air Traffic Controllers. What’s the standard of pilot being delivered these days? With the big manufacturers selling more big jets than ever, the demand for pilots is huge, in some areas that demand is not being met. Airlines have been training right seaters to a new standard of simply being operators. Their flying skills are basic but the ability to operate aircraft systems is being met. Aircraft are designed with highly automated systems to allow this type of pilot to make a career of it. I’d love to know how many circuits these operators do in a Cessna at the local aero club per year. I hope it’s quite a bit.

If the amount of close calls in the vicinity of busy airfields is anything to go by, are these crews and ATC being trained to the required standard, or have the organisations accepted the risk of reduced training levels to bring more operators up to speed as soon as possible to meet demand.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Be safe, be good at the basics, know your limits. Let’s not have another Tenerife or mid air collision over a major city.

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