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Air traffic control blamed for close call in N.J.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating why two planes ended up flying too close together as they approached Newark International Airport in New Jersey Wednesday afternoon.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An air traffic controller mistakenly gave a passenger jet the frequency for the wrong airport, an error that put that plane and another landing at Newark Liberty International Airport much closer than they should have been, authorities said Thursday.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the near miss, which occurred at 2:10 p.m. Wednesday between a Boeing 737 and an Embraer 145. The Boeing operated as Continental Flight 536 arriving from Phoenix and the Embraer was Continental Express Flight 2614 arriving from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

According to FAA spokesman Jim Peters, an air traffic controller at the New York Terminal Radar Approach center on Long Island, which guides planes landing at New York area airports before turning them over to airport towers, mistakenly gave the Continental Express crew the frequency for the tower at nearby Teterboro Airport instead of the Newark airport.

As a result, the Newark tower was temporarily unable to contact the crew as both planes approached Newark. They eventually were separated by 1¼ horizontal miles, or less than half the three-mile nose-to-tail requirement set by the FAA for planes landing at the airport, Peters said.

In addition, the planes were 600 feet apart in altitude, much closer than the minimum required vertical separation of 1,000 feet.

Both planes landed safely and arrived at the gate about 15 minutes apart, according to Continental.

Ray Adams, vice president of the air traffic controllers union at the Newark airport, rejected the FAA’s preliminary conclusion and attributed the incident to the FAA’s procedures for landings at Newark.

“We’re disputing the fact that the controller made an error,” Adams said.

In December, a plane landing on a Newark Liberty runway had to adjust its landing to fly over a plane that had taxied into its path. The planes came within about 300 feet of each other.