Timely warnings by air traffic controllers averted two potential midair collisions this weekend between small aircraft and jetliners bound for Orange County, federal officials said Monday.
In one incident, an American Airlines jet with 44 passengers aboard on final approach to John Wayne Airport descended quickly to avoid a small plane over Santa Ana. Air traffic controllers estimated that the two aircraft missed one another by 200 feet.
In the other incident, an America West jet with 94 passengers aboard swerved to avoid a private plane over Pomona. Closest separation in that incident was estimated by the pilot at 1,000 feet.
Pilots of both jetliners have filed near-collision reports with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating. The private pilot involved in the American near-collision has been found and questioned by the FAA. The identity of the private pilot involved in the America West incident remained undetermined Monday, the FAA said.
The incident involving the American Airlines plane occurred at 1:42 p.m. Sunday after Flight 2036, on the final leg of a nonstop flight from Sacramento, was cleared for visual approach into John Wayne Airport, according to John Raymond, spokesman for the Fort Worth, Tex.-based air carrier.
As the pilot of the BAe-146 jet was approaching at 2,600 feet about three miles northeast of the airport, an unidentified controller at Coast Terminal Radar Approach Control (Tracon) in El Toro warned that he was within 1,200 feet of a single-engine Cherokee Piper that had just departed John Wayne, Raymond said.
"Our pilot took evasive action and put (the plane) into a steep descent," Raymond said. "He passed within 200 feet of the private airplane."
The American pilot told airline officials that he never saw the Cherokee, Raymond said, despite the closeness of the two aircraft as reported by the Coast Tracon controller to the FAA.
The Cherokee pilot estimated the closest distance between the two planes at a quarter-mile and has told federal officials that he had the jetliner in sight at all times.
The Cherokee pilot was flying under visual flight rules at the time of the incident, according to FAA spokeswoman Elly Brekke in Los Angeles.
The America West incident occurred at 10:35 p.m. Saturday as Flight 652 from Phoenix was approaching John Wayne Airport from over the Pomona area, Brekke said. As the Boeing 737-300 descended to 5,000 feet, a Coast Tracon controller warned the crew that a single-engine Cessna 172 was straight ahead about two miles away and climbing from 4,500 feet, Brekke said.
The America West pilot executed a 15-degree right turn and climbed 200 feet in an evasive maneuver, Brekke said. Closest proximity between the two was 1,000 feet horizontally and 200 feet vertically, Brekke said.
The FAA defines a near-collision as an incident in which two aircraft come within 500 feet of each other (when below 29,000 feet), or one in which a pilot must take evasive action.
Daphne Dicino, spokeswoman for Phoenix-based America West, said the pilot filed the report only because he felt the Cessna should not have been in his airspace.