AUSTIN (KXAN) — A report released Thursday afternoon sheds new light about the moment when two planes came close to colliding last month on an Austin airport runway.
The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, shared a preliminary look at its investigation into “a runway incursion with overflight” that happened the morning of Feb. 4 between a FedEx cargo plane trying to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and a departing Southwest Airlines flight bound for Cancún. The report did not specify how close the two planes got that morning, adding that more investigation is needed to determine that. However, a rendering from the NTSB provided perspective about their positions when the FedEx plane flew over the Southwest flight.
The report detailed how the FedEx pilots first contacted Austin’s air traffic controller tower at about 6:34 a.m. to share they’re headed for a landing, according to audio recordings reviewed by the NTSB. Investigators said a controller cleared them to land on runway 18L.
About four minutes later at 6:38 a.m., the crew from a Southwest flight carrying 128 passengers to Cancún called into air traffic control about being “ready for takeoff” on the same runway. According to the report, the controller told the Southwest crew about a FedEx flight being three miles from landing. However, the controller “issued them a standard takeoff clearance from runway 18L,” the report read. Investigators said the Southwest crew then lined up the plane and prepared for takeoff.
Not even a minute later, the FedEx pilots apparently asked air traffic control if they could still land after the captain “was concerned” hearing the radio traffic about the Southwest flight, according to NTSB’s report. “The controller confirmed FDX1432 was cleared to land and advised them of traffic (SWA708) departing runway 18L ahead of him,” the report explained.
At approximately 6:40 a.m., when the FedEx cargo plane was less than a mile from landing, the captain of the Southwest flight told air traffic control that he was “rolling now” to leave. The FedEx plane’s captain said at about 150 feet off the ground, his first officer “called go-around” after seeing the departing Southwest flight approaching the end of the runway. Shortly thereafter, the report described the FedEx crew broadcasting “Southwest abort” and then “FedEx is on the go,” which could be heard from radio chatter released earlier to the public.
“The [Austin Airport Air Traffic Control Tower Air Traffic Manager] reported an overflight appeared to have occurred; however, the closest proximity has not yet been determined,” the report described. “[The Southwest flight] continued their flight plan route to Cancún, and [FedEx] executed a go-around and returned for landing without incident on runway 18L.”
According to the NTSB, the weather conditions that day included a calm wind, a quarter-mile visibility in freezing fog and a temperature of approximately 33 degrees. Investigators also said “there was an extremely low traffic volume and complexity at AUS” at that time.
The report explained how NTSB investigators are now analyzing the digital flight data recorders as well as the traffic alert and collision avoidance system computers from both planes. However, it read, “The cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) were overwritten.”
Interviews also happened with the respective pilots along with air traffic controllers from Austin.
The NTSB shared no one was hurt. It also denoted how the information shared in this report is preliminary and subject to change.
According to an FAA report, 2022 saw more than 1,700 close calls, like the situation in Austin. That’s up from the previous year. Pilot error is blamed on a majority of these instances, the report said.