NEW YORK (AFP) — Two close calls within a week at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport have prompted changes to how air traffic controllers sequence plane arrivals and departures, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Saturday.
Two commercial jets, one of them taking off and the other landing, came within a reported half-mile (0.8 kilometers) of each other on Friday in the second incident of its kind since last Saturday at one of the busiest hubs in the United States.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said new "sequencing" had been enacted to reduce risk on the perpendicular runways, which were the kinds involved in the two recent incidents.
"Because it's JFK they want to operate as efficiently as possible, but because the runways are intersecting, we essentially told them to sequence it so that they establish a little bigger margin of safety," Brown told AFP.
The new procedures were established to ensure that planes taking off on one runway were clear from the area before any incoming planes landed on a perpendicular runway, she said.
Dean Iacopelli, of the New York National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the new FAA procedures scrapped the perpendicular approach configuration it had used for years, even as controllers expressed concern the runway paths "intersect at the most dangerous stage of flight," when the two planes are nose-up with limited maneuverability and visibility.
Iacopelli told AFP the configuration was JFK's most efficient, at 74 arrivals per hour, but that as a result of the new FAA procedures that figure would be "drastically less than what it used to be yesterday."
"We're already encountering arrival delays as a result," he said.
Brown acknowledged that the improved safety procedures could result in delays.
"We are going to be looking at that. Safety always comes first, and in this situation, if it does slow down operations, that may be something that we need to do to keep the operations safe," Brown said.
Friday's incident began when Delta Flight 123 was handed over from a regional FAA traffic control center to the JFK tower as the jet approached for landing. Brown said the Delta pilot may not have been using the correct frequency during the handoff, and remained out of contact until about 1.5 miles (two kilometers) from the runway.
The flight was cleared for landing but the pilot opted to abort the landing in what is known as a "go round," Brown said.
That put the Delta, a Boeing 757 with a reported 170 people on board, into the path of a smaller Comair jet that was taking off on a different runway.
Last Saturday night, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a Cayman Airways Boeing 737 "almost collided" with a Chilean LAN Boeing 767 at JFK.
The Cayman flight was executing a missed approach and conflicted with the flight path of the LAN flight that was taking off from a perpendicular runway.
"Tower controllers intervened to attempt to resolve the conflict, assigning both aircraft diverging headings," said the NTSB, which has launched an investigation into the incident.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association estimated the planes came within 100 feet of each other.
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