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Near-collision at Bob Hope Airport draws federal inquiry

A 737 with 124 people on board came within feet of a Cessna that was practicing landings. An FAA spokesman says an air traffic controller misjudged the distance between the two planes.

April 24, 2010|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

Federal safety regulators are investigating the near-collision of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a small private plane that was practicing landings Monday at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that the incident occurred about 11 a.m. as Southwest Flight 649 from Oakland, carrying 119 passengers and five crew members, was landing on Runway 8.

NTSB officials said a single-engine Cessna 172 was practicing "touch and go" techniques on nearby Runway 15 when it passed over the 737, which was on the ground by that time and headed to the terminal.

The planes, which were at the intersection of two active runways, came within 10 feet to the side and 200 feet vertically of each other, according to federal authorities. Neither plane took evasive action.

"That's pretty close," said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB. "We determined that the incident was serious enough to send an investigator to the scene."

A "touch and go" is a practice maneuver in which an aircraft lands briefly before accelerating and becoming airborne again.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said an air traffic controller misjudged the distance between the two aircraft and mistakenly instructed the Cessna pilot to turn at a point that brought the planes close together.

"The controller failed to recognize the potential conflict and did not instruct the Cessna to go around," said Gregor, who added that the FAA conducted its own review of the matter.

FAA officials have designated the incident a runway incursion, which happens when a plane strays onto a runway without clearance due to pilot or air traffic controller errors or fails to stop at hold bars on taxiways that lead to runways. Prior to Monday, Gregor said, Bob Hope Airport had not had any serious incursions in at least 10 years.

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