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Thu, Nov 18, 2004

String Of Errors Leads To LAX Runway Incursion

Mistakes By Pilot, Controllers Put Multiple Aircraft On Same Runway

For the second time in three months, there's been a near-collision on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport. Authorities blamed it on mistakes made by a pilot and a controller.

"The incident did not pose a threat to any of the aircraft involved," said Greg Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, quoted in the LA Times. "Nonetheless, it did involve incursions into our very stringent standards."

It happened last week, when a Hawker Siddeley HS-125 was cleared to land on Runway 25 Left. Airport authorities say the pilot apparently misunderstood the clearance and landed on 25 Right. That mistake forced the flight crew aboard an aircraft taxiing toward the runway to slam on the brakes. The HS-125 also came within 2,000 feet of yet another aircraft crossing further down the runway.

Making the situation worse, a radar system monitoring close-in flight was out of order. It had been taken out of service weeks before, because it was reportedly emitting false alarms. That prompted heated complaints from controllers like controller Mike Foote, president of the LAX Tower NATCA local.

"Instead of getting right on top of it and fixing it so it doesn't give us that false alarm, instead of doing that in a day, they're doing it in three weeks," he told the LA Times. "They put it in limited mode so it does not give out [false] alarms, but it doesn't give us real alarms either."

Ironically, the incident occurred just one day after the NTSB used an August 19th runway incursion at LAX to illustrate the need for a new alert system that would warn flight crews if they are about to encroach on a runway in use.

The pilot of the bizjet obtained his clearance, but read it back incorrectly, said FAA spokesman Martin. The controller handling his flight apparently didn't catch the mistake during the read-back. Martin said he had another opportunity during another read-back, but also failed to recognize the pilot's error.

The controller handling the HS-125, a 15-year FAA veteran, has been relieved of duty pending an evaluation. The pilot of the bizjet could also face disciplinary action.

As the Hawker-Siddeley was on final, the tower cleared an American Eagle commuter for "position and hold" on Runway 25R. The heads-up pilot spotted the bizjet on short final and hit the brakes. Even so, the taxiing aircraft didn't stop until he had crossed the hold short line.

Further down the runway, a Mesa Airlines jet, which had been cleared to cross the runway, had to hurry as the bizjet approached. The aircraft passed within 2,000 feet of each other, violating FAA safety standards.

"These are unlikely to be characterized as severe incidents," said Martin. "Nonetheless, they do present opportunities for us to continue to learn and research in the area of human factors."



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