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News Article - December 14, 2007

I-TEAM: CLOSE CALLS AT PHILA. AIRPORT  
  FAA reports obtained by the CBS 3 I-Team revealed close calls in the sky over the area around Philadelphia International Airport. When skies are overcast, pilots must rely on their instruments and air traffic controllers to guide them safely around Philadelphia International Airport.

   But FAA reports obtained by the CBS 3 I-Team now reveal that in cloudy weather the afternoon of September 14, 2006, something went wrong, and two aircrafts came perilously close to colliding. "Real close, as close as it gets without having a collision," said attorney and aviation expert Arthur Wolk.

   Because of a miscommunication between air traffic controllers and the pilot of a commuter jet, the jet heading toward the airport began descending straight into the path of a helicopter traveling across Bucks County. Seconds from impact, a warning device called TCAS, activated and the jet pilot pulled up. "You're talking less than 10 seconds to disaster," said Wolk.

   Officially, the FAA calls this near mid-air collision an "operational error/deviation," the most serious of ten incidents over a 21-month period ending this past August, incidents now being made public for the first time in FAA documents obtained by the CBS 3 I-Team under the Freedom of Information Act. Also documented was a near-collision as two commuter flights approached the airport August 8, 2006. A controller mistakenly put a jet and a prop plane at the same altitude on a collision course. Again, an alarm sounded in one cockpit, alerting the pilot to divert seconds before a possible crash. In both cases, the FAA investigated, determining the close calls were caused by a complex mix of human and technical failures.

   Both Wolk and the FAA point out that, despite the incidents, American air travel is the safest anywhere and an FAA spokeperson's maintained: "FAA maintains the safest air traffic control system in the world. Providing services for thousands of flights every day. When there is an error in the air traffic system either by an air traffic controller, pilot or ground crew each is fully investigated by the agency."

Source - CBS3



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