The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that two jets landing on nearby runways at Kennedy Airport were never in danger, contradicting assertions by the air traffic controllers' union and a lawmaker that the planes almost hit each other.
A 37-seat American Eagle commuter jet and a Boeing 747 EVA Air cargo jet were cleared to land Sunday afternoon on runways that are perpendicular but don't intersect, said a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
The commuter jet's pilot decided not to land, fearing the effects of turbulence from the 747, the union spokesman said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer on Monday said the two jets nearly collided, and he demanded the FAA immediately install the most advanced anti-collision technology at the region's three major airports — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty.
But FAA spokesman Jim Peters said Tuesday that after reviewing radar data from Kennedy, the agency concluded the two jets were never in any danger.
"It was a nonevent," Peters said. "There was no danger under the conditions that took place Sunday."
However, Doug Church, the controllers' association president, said allowing two airplanes to land simultaneously on perpendicular runways was an "unnecessary risk." The controller handling the landing of the planes said it was the closest he had ever seen two airplanes come together, according to Church and Schumer.
"That air had been severely disturbed" by the 747, Church said. "The (commuter jet) could have crashed if it had flown through the wake turbulence of the 747."
Peters said there were no potential turbulence-related problems for planes landing on perpendicular runways. The FAA planned to speak with the controller, he said.
Schumer, D-N.Y., didn't return a message Tuesday seeking comment on the FAA's findings. He has been pressuring the FAA to speed up the installation of the latest anti-collision technology at local airports since a plane taxied onto a runway where a plane was about to land at Newark last week. The FAA was investigating.
Schumer's comments also come on the heels of last week's congressional report that said there was "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision occurring" in the country because of poor leadership, unreliable technology and overworked air traffic controllers. It said near-collisions at New York area airports increased from six in 2003 to 13 in 2006.
Kennedy was to receive the anti-collision system in August 2008, Newark in July 2009 and LaGuardia in December 2010. The technology alerts air traffic controllers to potential collisions within 5 miles of an airport, including on runways.
Schumer was to meet with the FAA's acting administrator to demand the system be installed immediately at the three airports.