AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Federal Aviation Administration said it was looking into an incident involving two planes at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Saturday. The National Transportation Safety Board initially tweeted about a “possible runway incursion and overflight” that involved a Southwest Airlines plane and a FedEx cargo plane.
In an initial statement, the FAA said preliminary information found FedEx Flight 1432 had been cleared to land on Runway 18-Left at AUS around 6:40 a.m. Saturday morning. That FedEx flight was cleared for its landing while the plane was still several miles from the airport.
Shortly before its expected landing, the controller cleared Southwest Flight 708 to depart from the same runway, per the FAA.
At that time, there was heavy fog in Austin.
“The pilot of the FedEx airplane discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out,” FAA officials said in a statement. “The Southwest flight departed safely. The FAA is investigating the incident.”
The FedEx plane was a Boeing 767 cargo airplane model, while the Southwest Airlines flight was a Boeing 737 model.
In a statement, a FedEx spokesperson said the company’s cargo flight from Memphis, Tennessee landed safely in Austin after “encountering an event just before landing.” They referred any additional questions to the FAA and NTSB, citing the active investigation.
An AUS spokesperson referred any more questions to the FAA, adding the incident didn’t affect airport operations.
“Chaos and incoordination,” traveler Leah Gunderson said. What happened makes her and other fliers uneasy.
“I want to know who said that it was okay to land at the same time as the other plane like, who is coordinating this?,” Gunderson asked. “Where is the management?”
Carson Pearce is an aviation professor from Texas A&M. He said the FAA investigation will answer those questions.
“This is definitely a failure of what is called situational awareness by air traffic control,” Pearce said.
According to Pearce, fog Saturday morning fog likely added to the close call.
“When you get down that close in a landing environment, typically those clearances for landing are given by visual cue,” Pearce said.
According to an FAA report, 2022 saw more 1,700 close calls like the situation in Austin. That’s up from the year before. Majority of the instances were blamed on pilot error.
“The investigation needs to…see what human factor distractors were there,” Pearce said.
There is a shortage of air traffic controllers right now. Many are approaching their mandatory retirement age of 56, according to Pearce.
Pearce said FAA rules don’t allow air traffic controllers to work longer than 10 straight hours. And they must have 9 hours of rest before their next shift. However, he said the shortage could mean working extra days each week.