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Published: Thursday, 9/23/2010

Feds: Near-collision of 2 planes over Minneapolis

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MINNEAPOLIS — Federal regulators are investigating the near-collision of a US Airways jet and a small cargo plane that came within 50 to 100 feet of crashing over Minneapolis just after takeoff, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The pilots of the two planes never saw the other aircraft, though the US Airways captain said he heard the cargo plane nearby, the NTSB said in a news release. There were no reports of damage or injuries, it said.

US Airways Flight 1848, an Airbus 320, took off from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for Philadelphia with 90 passengers and five crew members shortly before 7 a.m. on Sept. 16. A Beech 99 operated by Bemidji Aviation Services took off on a parallel runway at about the same time.

The NTSB said the tower then instructed the US Airways crew to turn left, which caused it to cross paths with the cargo plane, which had only the pilot aboard and was bound for La Crosse, Wis.

The two planes came within 50 to 100 feet of each other, about 1,500 feet above the ground and about a half-mile from the end of the runway that the cargo plane used, the NTSB said.

“Neither pilot saw the other aircraft because they were in the clouds, although the captain of the US Airways flight reported hearing the Beech 99 pass nearby,” the release said.

The jetliner had an automated system that instructed the pilots to climb to avoid a crash, The cargo plane did not, and its pilot was unaware the Airbus was nearby, the NTSB said.

A rise in near-collisions nationwide prompted the Federal Aviation Administration this summer to launch an effort to learn why dangerous errors were being made by air traffic controllers and pilots. The FAA also said it had seen a spike in incidents where planes were violating minimum separation distances.

Generally, planes must keep a lateral distance of about 6 miles at high altitudes and nearly 3.5 miles when approaching airports. Planes can be closer during landings.

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said this incident fell into “Category A,” the most serious class of “operational errors” involving separation distance violations, because of the high danger of collision.

There were 10 operational errors at the Minneapolis airport in 2009 and this was the fourth this year, Cory said. But this was the only Category A incident among the 14, while the others were in lesser categories with little risk of a crash, she said.

“This is something we're very concerned about,” Cory said. “We want to find out what happened and why. And we want to find out what we can do to prevent it from happening again.”



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