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A near-collision between 2 planes in Austin prompts an FAA investigation

Southwest Airlines planes are seen at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas on Jan. 22.
Daniel Slim
/
AFP via Getty Images
Southwest Airlines planes are seen at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas on Jan. 22.

Updated February 5, 2023 at 2:52 PM ET

A FedEx cargo airplane was forced to change course during an attempted landing after a Southwest Airlines plane was cleared to depart from the same runway at an airport in Austin, Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The FedEx plane was cleared to land while several miles away from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Saturday morning, according to preliminary information, the FAA said. Shortly before the FedEx aircraft was due to land, an air traffic controller cleared the Southwest flight to depart.

"The pilot of the FedEx airplane discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out," the FAA said in a statement. "The Southwest flight departed safely."

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the near-collision.

The FedEx crew, already cleared to land, was about 3 miles from the runway when the Southwest jet was cleared to depart, according to flight data interpreted by FlightRadar24.

The Southwest flight was still on the runway when the FedEx crew reached it — suggesting a lag-time in the Southwest crew initiating its take-off — prompting FedEx pilots to stop their landing.

"At the closest point horizontally, the aircraft were less than 1000 feet apart," the site reported, while noting that the lack of same-time data points prevents an exact calculation of the distance.

The Southwest flight continued its departure and arrived safely in Cancun, FlightRadar24 said, while the FedEx flight circled the airfield and landed safely 12 minutes later.

Weather conditions weren't ideal at the time of the incident, though it's unclear whether visibility played a part. A foggy morning made for low-visibility that only worsened closer to the incident, according to weather data cited by the flight blog.

It's the second high-profile close call to happen within a month. A similar near-miss happened at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport when an American Airlines flight crossed the same runway from where a Delta Air Lines flight was taking off.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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