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SAN FRANCISCO — Two jetliners aborted landings at San Francisco International Airport last week after pilots spotted a Southwest Airlines jet taxiing on runways where other planes had been cleared to land.
An air traffic controller told the southwest pilots they shouldn’t have been on the runways during the May 19 incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that the Southwest plane cleared the runways when other planes passed directly overhead, and the decision to abort the landings was “preventive.”
“The FAA has reviewed the events and determined that appropriate steps have been taken to ensure safe operations,” the agency said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was not investigating the matter.
The incident comes after half a dozen close calls in recent months that are under investigation by security officials. These include one in February in which a FedEx plane hovered about 100 feet the top of a Southwest Jet in Austin, Texas after an air traffic controller cleared the two planes to use the same runway.
In this month’s incident, an inbound United Airlines plane flew as low as a few hundred feet over San Francisco Bay before pilots saw the Southwest jet on the same runway and decide to abandon their landing.
Shortly after, the crew of an incoming Alaska Airlines plane saw the same jet from the southwest cross a second parallel runway, and the pilots also aborted their landing.
Planes from the United States and Alaska circled and landed safely.
The air traffic controller told the crew of the Southwest jet, “You shouldn’t be on the runway,” according to a recording captured by LiveATC.com. When one of the pilots tried to explain himself, the controller cut him off, saying, “I don’t need an argument.”
The incident was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco airport was the scene of a frightening near-disaster in 2017when pilots of an Air Canada jet mistook a taxiway for their runway and nearly landed on four other planes waiting to take off.
Despite recent close callsThe acting FAA chief said the country’s air traffic system was safe, pointing to the absence of a fatal accident involving a US airline since 2009.
However, concern about close calls led the FAA to hold a “safety summit” in March. The agency said this week it would invest $100 million in improvements at 12 airports — but not San Francisco — to reduce the number of “runway incursions”, when an aircraft or airport vehicle is on a runway when it should not be.