Controllers, Pilot Blamed for New Jersey Midair Close Call

By Controllers, pilot blamed for NJ midair close call | October 12, 2011

Errors by air traffic controllers and a jet pilot led to three planes nearly entering into one another’s flight paths over Teterboro Airport last fall, according to a new federal report.

The close call on Oct. 20 involved a corporate jet and two Cessnas and wasn’t made public at the time. It began when the jet took off from the northern New Jersey airport but turned back because of a faulty fuel indicator light. The two smaller planes were approaching the airport in preparation for landing.

A National Transportation Safety Board report released last week found that air traffic controllers at Teterboro and at a regional control center in New York gave instructions to pilots that nearly put the planes on a collision course.

The report also faulted the jet’s pilot for overshooting the runway on its return.

The jet and one of the small planes came within 100 feet vertically of each other and a little more than a half-mile laterally, the report said. The two small planes came within 200 feet vertically and about four-tenths of a mile laterally.

Standard separation for planes landing at Teterboro is 1,000 feet vertically and three miles laterally, according to Michael Brennan, president of the air traffic controllers’ union at the airport. Those distances can vary slightly in certain situations, he said.

The NTSB report faulted Teterboro controllers for initially putting the jet and one of the Cessnas on a converging flight path for the same runway. The New York control center, which is responsible for directing planes until they get about five miles from Teterboro, then ordered the Teterboro tower to tell the Cessna to turn left and climb. But that put the plane in conflict with the jet when the jet overshot the runway.

The Cessna then had to make a hard left turn to avoid the second Cessna that was making its approach.

“There were some communication issues between the two facilities,” Brennan said.

No one was injured in the incident.

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