The Federal Aviation Administration has taken a number of corrective actions as a result of a runway collision at Los Angeles International Airport last February, a local FAA official said Thursday.
The collision between a Continental Airlines jetliner and a small, twin-engine Cessna was one of six examples of FAA air traffic controller errors cited by the National Transportation Safety board Wednesday in a report warning that there appears to be "an erosion of safety" in the air traffic control system.
The actions outlined by Jack McMillen, quality assurance manager for the FAA's Western Pacific Region, on Thursday did not result from the NTSB report. They were taken before the report was issued and were designed instead to deal with a more specific problem--the possible recurrence of an accident like the one that took place last Feb. 23.
These actions included moving one of the controllers involved to a less-demanding post, efforts to improve coordination between controllers handling aircraft that could be on collision courses, the repositioning of some terminal lights to improve visibility and the procurement of better radar to track taxiing planes.
NTSB investigators said in Wednesday's report that Continental Flight 866, a Boeing 727 jetliner with 84 passengers aboard, had been cleared by a "local controller" in the LAX tower for takeoff on Runway 25 Right for a flight to Houston. At the same time, a "ground controller" in the tower cleared the Cessna 310 cargo plane to taxi across the same runway. Ground controllers handle aircraft on taxiways.
The NTSB said the jetliner accelerated down the runway and had just lifted off when when its right main landing gear struck the tail structure of the Cessna crossing beneath it.
The Cessna sustained "substantial damage" in the collision, according to the report, but the jetliner, apparently undamaged, continued on its planned flight and later landed safely in Houston. No one was injured in the incident.
McMillen said Thursday that as a result of the incident, "first and foremost" the two controllers involved in the mishap--neither of whom was identified--were removed from operational duty and put through an extensive retraining program.
"We determined that one of the individuals . . . the local controller . . . was not of the high caliber necessary to control traffic at Los Angeles International Airport," McMillen said.
McMillen said the local controller was reassigned to an unnamed "facility of lesser activity." The ground controller returned to duty at the LAX tower. In addition, McMillen said, communications procedures used by local and ground controllers were intensified, so that both controllers must verify to each other that they can see that the runway onto which they are directing traffic is clear. Previously, only the local controller made this visual verification. Along with the repositioned lights and improved radar, McMillen said, the FAA has limited the taxiways that small, hard-to-see aircraft may use at night. He said the FAA also "re-emphasized" during controller training sessions "the need to ensure coordination in a timely and adequate manner."