Two United Airlines flights were steered dangerously close to one another above a Houston airport earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration said — the second near-miss reported this week.
The May 9 incident near George Bush Intercontinental Airport happened at 9:38 p.m. local time, shortly after the two flights had taken off, the FAA said in a statement.
The planes came within 400 feet of each other vertically and .87 miles of each other laterally about two miles southeast of the airport, officials said.
"An air traffic controller instructed the pilot of United Flight 601 to make a right turn after departing from Runway 9. The controller then noticed that aircraft was heading into airspace normally reserved for Runway 15-Left, where United Flight 437 had just departed," the FAA said in a statement. "The controller issued instructions to both pilots to safely separate the aircraft.
News of the close call comes days after the National Transportation Safety Board reported that a United flight from San Francisco and an ExpressJet flight bound for Memphis had a near-collision at New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport.
Both planes in the May 9 incident above Houston were Airbus A320 aircraft. Weather that night was cloudy, according to KHOU in Houston. Flight 601 was departing for Vancouver, Flight 437 for Mexico City.
Air traffic control reportings reveal the pilots' confusion above the airport.
"Hey, you know what happened there?" one pilot on United Flight 601 asks another on the recordings, KHOU reported.
"You all basically crossed directly over the top of each other," another pilot responds.
"That's what it looked like from my perspective. I have no idea what was going on over there in the tower," the first pilot says. "It was pretty gnarly-looking."
The other pilot then appears to identify what the problem was: "I'm guessing he was supposed to give us a left turn [instead of a right]."
— Elizabeth Chuck
First published May 23 2014, 7:03 AM