Southwest Flight Nearly Hit By FedEx Cargo Plane
The two planes were landing and taking off on the same runway.
A FedEx cargo plane and a Southwest passenger flight almost collided on the runway due to confusion over permissions to land and take off. The FedEx plane was cleared to land on the runway at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, but the situation got hairy (to put it mildly) when a Southwest plane was gearing up to take off from the same runway.
Planes frequently use the same runway for take off and landing, assuming there is enough separation to do so safely—but that wasn't the case in this specific incident. Here's what happened.
Two Planes Sharing One Runway
FedEx Flight 1432 was flying from Memphis to Austin on Saturday, February 4, the New York Post reports. It was cleared to land on Runway 18 Left at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Southwest Flight 708 alerted air traffic control that it was ready to take off for its flight to Cancun, Mexico.
Audio Exchange Captures the Confusion
"Fly heading 170, Runway 18 Left, cleared for takeoff. Traffic three miles final is a heavy 767," the controller tells Flight 708, which was bound for Cancun, Mexico. "Copy the traffic," the pilot responded. Dramatic audio captured the incident where the FedEx pilot realized the Southwest plane was on the runway and told it to abort the take off.
Mixed Messages From Air Control?
"Tower, confirm FedEx 1432 heavy cleared to land on 18 Left," the FedEx pilot says, clearly aware the Southwest flight was still on the runway even though he was supposed to be landing the plane. "That is affirmative. Runway 18 Left, you are cleared to land. Traffic departing prior to your arrival is a 737," the controller assured the FedEx pilot.
The FedEx Pilot Is Concerned
Concerned that the Southwest jet was not moving, the FedEx pilot said, "Southwest 708, confirm on a roll." "Rolling now," the Southwest pilot responds. Clearly alarmed now, what sounds like the FedEx pilot (unconfirmed) says, "Southwest, abort. FedEx is on the go."
The Southwest Plane Is Unable To Abort
The air controller apparently thought the Southwest jet had aborted takeoff and told the pilot to "turn right when able." The pilot responded by saying "negative" and taking off—it is thought the plane was now at a speed so high that aborting the flight would not have been possible."The pilot of the FedEx airplane discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out," the FAA said in a statement. "The Southwest flight departed safely."
How Close Did the Planes Get?
Flight Radar data shows the landing FedEx plane had an altitude of 75 feet over the Southwest plane while it was just taking off, making them a possible 71 feet from each other. "FedEx 1432, climb and maintain 3,000. When able, you can turn left heading 080," the controller told the pilot. "Southwest 708, you can turn left heading 170."
Investigations Have Been Launched
The air controller apologized to the FedEx pilot after the cargo plane had safely landed. "You have our apologies. We appreciate your professionalism." Both the FAA and NTSB are investigating the incident the National Transportation Safety Board describes as a "possible runway incursion and overflight involving airplanes from Southwest Airlines and FedEx."