A FedEx cargo airplane attempting to land at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Saturday had to reverse course after a passenger plane was cleared to depart from the same runway, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The pilot of the FedEx airplane discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out,” the FAA said in a statement.
The Boeing 767 cargo plane was several miles from the airport when it was cleared to land, according to the FAA. But just before it was expected to land on Runway 18 Left, an air traffic controller gave the go-ahead for an airplane operated by Southwest Airlines to take off. FedEx 1432 from Memphis to Austin aborted its landing, and according to FlightAware, circled the airport and eventually landed in Austin at 6:51 a.m.
The NTSB is investigating an incident involving a Southwest 737 and FedEx 767 that occurred today in Austin. Initial ADS-B data show the landing 767 overflying the departing 737. We are processing granular data now. https://t.co/twHCydm5ixhttps://t.co/wZ3Z0xKJem pic.twitter.com/nkKVjshXmf
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) February 5, 2023
In a tweet Saturday, the National Transportation Safety Board described it as a “possible runway incursion and overflight involving airplanes from Southwest Airlines and FedEx.”
The Southwest flight, 708, destination Cancún, Quintana Roo, was able to depart safely, according to the FAA. The Southwest 737 jetliner landed in Cancún at 9:47 a.m. local time, per FlightAware.
Here’s what we know about the incident
Available audio from Live ATC of Austin’s traffic control, which begins about 6:47 a.m., indicates that both pilots were made aware of the other's presence. Upon giving the Southwest flight the go-ahead to take off, the air traffic controller told the plane that the FedEx cargo plane was three miles away. The Southwest pilot responded and acknowledged the traffic.
— Haemaker (@haemaker) February 5, 2023
The FedEx pilot asks the tower if the plane is confirmed to land, to which the controller responds yes and lets the pilot know about the Southwest flight taking off.
About 30 seconds later, the controller asks the Southwest flight to confirm if it is “on the roll.” To which the pilot immediately responds, “Rolling now.”
After about 20 seconds of silence, the tower says, “Southwest abort. FedEx is on the go.”
There’s no response, and nearly nine seconds later, the tower tells the Southwest flight to turn right when able. Southwest immediately responds by saying, “Negative.”
The tower comes back about 17 seconds later and tells the FedEx pilot to climb and maintain 3,000 feet and turn left, which the pilot confirms upon receiving the instruction.
Near the end of the recording, after the FedEx plane has landed and said it cleared the runway, the tower apologizes to the pilot and thanks them for their professionalism.
Data from Flight Radar shows that the FedEx plane was passing over the Southwest plane at 75 feet from the ground while the Southwest plane was 4 feet off the ground, possibly making them within 71 feet of each other before the FedEx plane began climbing.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board said they are investigating the incident.
A similar close call was averted at John F. Kennedy International Airport last month after an American Airlines plane crossed a runway while a Delta Airlines Boeing 737 was preparing for takeoff. The Delta plane stopped about 1,000 feet from where the American Airlines plane had crossed from an adjacent taxiway, according to the FAA statement.
American-Statesman staff writer Skylar Seipp contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin airport: FedEx cargo plane avoids collision with Southwest jet