April 23rd, 2010
11:59 PM ET

Planes nearly collide at California airport

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the near collision of a Southwest Airlines jet and a small private plane at Southern California's Bob Hope Airport.

Southwest's Flight 649, carrying 119 passengers and five crew members on board a Boeing 737-700, was landing at the airport's runway 8 on Monday while the Cessna 172, departing on runway 15, just cleared the jet.

The Cessna was performing a practice maneuver known as a "touch and go," in which the aircraft briefly lands before accelerating and going airborne again, the NTSB said.

Runways 8 and 15 intersect at the Burbank airport. The aircraft came within 200 feet of each other vertically and 10 feet laterally at the runway intersection, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Nobody was injured, and weather conditions were clear.

Improving runway safety is one of NTSB's "most wanted" goals. The deadliest U.S. runway accident occurred in August 2006, when Comair Flight 5191 crashed after taking off from the wrong runway, killing all but one of the 50 people on board. The worst involving two aircraft happened between a US Airways jet and a commuter plane in a February 1991 collision at the Los Angeles airport, killing 34.

The world's deadliest aviation accident also happened on a runway. In March 1977, two jumbo jets collided on a runway at the Canary Islands, killing 583 passengers and crew members.

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soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Patrick

    Michael, a Cessna 172 is not a plane for the rich and famous, believe me! And how can you jump to conclusions so quickly by assuming that the 172 was at fault? What if the Southwest jet was the one to violate a clearance Рif so, should we clear all airports of commercial jet traffic and create some kind of a flight training wonderland, where small traininers dont have to burn through all kinds of time and money while waiting in the takeoff line? And then you mention that these planes should be banned due to the IRS incident Рshould all commercial jets be banned due to 9/11? A little constructive criticism my friend Рthink about what you say or write, look at both sides of the issue, use common sense. That is all.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    I totally disagree witrh the comments from Michael. !st, most people who have airplanes are not rich. 2nd, General aviation flies more miles in the interest of business than the commercial aviation. 3rd, General Aviation generates more revenue which is used to support the "Big" airports. 4th,most of General Aviation have been excluded from many of the larger airports due to costs.In general, 5th, the amount of training that goes into obtaining a pilots license is very high and most pilots do not instantly go to a major hub to practice – but instead work up to that level over time and then use it for business purposes. Yes, even the big boys and the Air Traffic controllers make errors in jusgement too.

    To me it would be like saying all cars should be off the road because they clog up the roads for of 18 Wheel commercial trucks. The amount of training reuqired to get a car license is far less than an Commercial driver, hence they should not be allowed on the highway because of the lack of experiance.

    Obviously you do not know what you are talking about.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. Roger

    I don't know why we let anybody drive automobiles either, they're much more dangerous. What else are you going to tell me I can't do, ride my motorcycle, or lawn tractor?

    April 24, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. ElizabethClaire

    It is usually the fault of the air traffic controllers when a crash occurs or a near crash incident happens. When a mid-air collision happened over Germany a few years ago, there was only ONE air traffic controller on duty at busy Zurick. Switzerland main airport. All aboard were killed. I don't fly into Zurick anymore...I don't trust the airport to be safe.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. Retired ATCer

    Michael,

    While I respect your opinion, you do not understand the big picture! In order for individuals to become rated commercial pilots, they must undergo hundreds and hundreds of hours of training (most often at their own expense) which includes touch-and-go operations. Most are not, as you call them, "hobby" pilots. Furthermore, most of the pilots flying private jets are just as experienced (sometimes more) than commercial jetliner pilots. Smaller aircraft must have someplace to operate out of, but taxpayers are reluctant or not willing to pay for more airport operations areas. Additionally, in many large metropolitan areas, there is just not enough airspace or land available to build these new airports. This incident will be investigated to determine if it was pilot error, or controller error. As in all of life, in aviation human error is a constant that can be mitigated, but not eliminated.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff

    Michael,

    I don't know why we allow hobby cars, and even most private SUVs, anywhere near roads and highways with commercial traffic. They're a toy for the rich and a menace for everybody else. They're loud, clog up roads, their inexperienced drivers aren't safe, and they're a national safety disaster waiting to happen (think about the Oklahoma City bomber).

    We should leave our national roads to the truck and bus driving professionals.

    Now doesn't that sound silly?

    Many private planes cost significantly less than many of the cars driven on the road today. A used Cessna 150 typically used during flight training sells for about $20,000.

    The nation's airspace is owned by all of us, and private air travel can be an inexpensive and efficient way to provide goods, jobs, and services that you utilize on a daily basis without even knowing it.

    The FAA has already released preliminary information that the mistake was likely due to the tower controller, not either of the pilots involved.

    Please reconsider before submitting such inflammatory and damaging posts in the future.

    April 24, 2010 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. John

    Get some facts and come back. They are not a toy for the rich...i am not rich and I have taken lessons in a 172 at my local airport. You can rent/fly them for only $80-$120 an hour. Statistically (considering flight volume), accidents involving general aviation aircraft are rare. Accidents between commerical and GA aircraft are so infrequent I think the last one occured in the 1970s (a PSA crash in San Diego).

    April 24, 2010 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. pilot

    Michael,
    You are a common but unfortunate example of a person who is uninformed about general aviation. Just because one of the planes was small does not mean that it is to blame. I doubt you will wait for the NTSB report to learn what went wrong with the system that caused this incident.

    This airport is controlled airspace which means each aircraft was talking to, and under the control of Air Traffic Control. We'll likely learn that there was human error on the part of the controller or one of the pilots. By the way, this could easily have happened between too large commercial aircraft. What would you complain about then? Rich people on fancy vacations or big corporate meanies on business trips?

    Pilots that fly smaller aircraft are still pilots. They are certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration and must meet and maintain the requirements to fly their aircraft. Finally, you should meet a few pilots. You'll find that they're not a bunch of rich people with toys. Most can't even afford their own aircraft and rent or own partnerships or a share in an aircraft with many other people. Better yet, go get an introductory flight at a flight school. Most will only charge about $45 to take you up and show you what becoming a pilot is all about. Be warned though, you might just like it and become one of the small minority of people who have challenged themselves to do the hard work that it takes to become a pilot and enjoy one of our countries great freedoms.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jim

    It might be pertinent to ask why the light aircraft was allegedly performing a "touch and go" at a controlled airport where such maneuvers are usually prohibited, and only full stop landings are permitted. Was it ignorance on the part of the pilot of the light aircraft, or did the pilot in fact see something that would hinder him successfully and safely landing his aircraft (like, say maybe, a 737 landing on an intersecting runway?) Such questions aren't considered as newsworthy as the reporting of a crash that didn't happen.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    It appears that this incident had little or nothing to do with either pilot. Both planes were in radio contact with the tower and the controller should have 1) told the Cessna to extend his downwind to allow the Southwest jet to land first: 2) told the Cessna to go around to avoid a possible conflict at the intersection: 3) told the Cessna pilot to land and hold short of the intersection: or 4) slowed the Southwest jet enough to allow adequate separation. In any case, it appears that it was more likely an air traffic control error that caused this incident. By the way, most private jets are owned by businesses and are flown by professional pilots.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  11. scott

    ichael,
    You are a common but unfortunate example of a person who is uninformed about general aviation. Just because one of the planes was small does not mean that it is to blame. I doubt you will wait for the NTSB report to learn what went wrong with the system that caused this incident.

    This airport is controlled airspace which means each aircraft was talking to, and under the control of Air Traffic Control. We'll likely learn that there was human error on the part of the controller or one of the pilots. By the way, this could easily have happened between too large commercial aircraft. What would you complain about then? Rich people on fancy vacations or big corporate meanies on business trips?

    Pilots that fly smaller aircraft are still pilots. They are certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration and must meet and maintain the requirements to fly their aircraft. Finally, you should meet a few pilots. You'll find that they're not a bunch of rich people with toys. Most can't even afford their own aircraft and rent or own partnerships or a share in an aircraft with many other people. Better yet, go get an introductory flight at a flight school. Most will only charge about $45 to take you up and show you what becoming a pilot is all about. Be warned though, you might just like it and become one of the small minority of people who have challenged themselves to do the hard work that it takes to become a pilot and enjoy one of our countries great freedoms.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. Controller Bob

    Neither the C172 nor the SWA flight are to blame. The responsibility for runway separation belongs to the air traffic controller in the tower. If two airplanes nearly collided at an intersection you only need to look to the tower to find the fault.

    Both of these airplanes had a clearance to do what they did. SWA had a landing clearance and the C172 had a touch and go clearance.

    A few weeks ago something very similar happened at SFO. A commercial flight had to take evasive action right after liftoff to avoid colliding with a light twin. Controller error.

    At another airport a controller cleared three airplanes to land simultaneously without any kind of sequencing. Two of the three nearly collided. Controller error.

    Right now, if it wasn't for the pilots paying attention and saving their own lives, we'd be having catastrophic events on a regular basis.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. Studley

    As an instrument rated private pilot who owns his own plane (Cherokee 140) I agree with the pilot and controller posts here. The anti GA commentors are obviously clueless.

    I fly in and out of Charleston, KCHS, where we have commercial, general, and military operations – if you want a thrill, land behind either a C17 or a F15! Mistakes happen but I have hign confidence in both my fellow pilots and the highly skilled, dedicated professionals in ATC.

    Everytime there is a GA accident it is national news and the clamor goes up to do something about small aircraft. If the same publicity was given to auto fatalities no one would drive a car.

    Flying is safer than driving.

    April 24, 2010 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. Wife of a pilot

    Michael....

    My husband just left a few minutes ago to fly to Norfolk Va to look at a twin engine airplane for us...We are not wealthy. We choose to have an airplane payment instead of a car payment. We use our Cessna 182 to fly for both business and pleasure...it is quite convenient to travel this way and MUCH safer than driving.

    The previous posts in response to your ignorant comment have been entertaining. I TRULY hope that your comment was made because you were bored and wanted to ruffle feathers. If you REALLY feel that way about GA, hopefully the comments made by pilots and controllers have influenced you to think otherwise......if not, you are a delta uniform mike bravo alpha sierra sierra.

    April 24, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  15. wtfismyname

    Wow – something almost happened.

    April 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
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