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Another runway close call: JetBlue pilots pull up to avoid crashing into charter jet

A JetBlue plane lands at Logan International Airport on Jan. 26 in Boston.
Michael Dwyer
A JetBlue plane lands at Logan International Airport on Jan. 26 in Boston.

Updated February 28, 2023 at 6:53 PM ET

The pilots of a JetBlue passenger jet took evasive action while coming in to land at Boston's Logan airport Monday night to avoid hitting another plane that had crossed an intersecting runway, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

It is the fifth such runway incursion that resulted in a near collision of aircraft in recent weeks, raising significant safety concerns that will likely be raised at a U.S. Senate committee hearing Wednesday with President's Biden's nominee to head the FAA, Phil Washington.

According to the FAA, at about 7 p.m. ET Monday, the pilot of a Learjet 60 began to take off without clearance to do so, just as a JetBlue plane, flight #206 from Nashville, was approaching to land on an intersecting runway.

An air traffic controller had instructed the pilot of the Learjet, operated by a private charter company, "to line up and wait on runway 9 while the JetBlue Embraer 190 landed on runway 4-Right, which intersects runway 9," the FAA said in a statement.

"The Learjet pilot read back the instructions clearly but began a takeoff roll instead," the FAA statement continues. "The pilot of the JetBlue aircraft took evasive action and initiated a climb-out as the Learjet crossed the intersection."

The flight tracking service FlightRadar24 says its preliminary analysis of the incident shows that the planes came within about 530 feet of crashing into one another.

JetBlue Airways confirmed the close call, saying in a statement: "On Monday, February 27, JetBlue flight 206 landed safely in Boston after our pilots were instructed to perform a go-around by air traffic controllers." The statement adds: "Safety is JetBlue's first priority and our crews are trained to react to situations like this. We will assist authorities as they investigate this incident."

The FAA said it was investigating.

The near collision follows other close calls

The near collision at the Boston airport comes less than a week after a similar incident at the Hollywood Burbank airport in California between a Mesa Airlines plane and a Sky West passenger jet.

On Feb. 22, the pilots of the Mesa aircraft abandoned a landing attempt and initiated a go-around to avoid the Sky West jet, which had been cleared by air traffic control to take off on the same runway.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating that incident, as well as others in recent weeks.

At the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas on Feb. 4, a FedEx cargo jet was cleared to land on the same runway that a Southwest Airlines passenger jet was already on and beginning its roll to take off. The FedEx pilot pulled up just in time, as the NTSB says the two airplanes came within 100 feet of one another.

On Jan. 13, at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, an American Airlines plane mistakenly crossed an active runway on which a Delta Air Lines jet was just beginning to take off. Air traffic controllers issued an urgent warning for the Delta pilots to abort, which they did, coming within roughly 1,400 feet from the American jetliner.

And at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on Jan. 23, a United Airlines plane crossed a runway that a private Cessna plane was landing on.

The close calls — along with the failure of a critical FAA pilot notification system in January that led to an hourslong, nationwide ground stop of departing flights — have raised alarm bells in Congress, as lawmakers in both chambers held hearings on the matters in recent weeks.

The aviation safety concerns will likely again be front and center on Wednesday, when the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a long-awaited hearing on Phil Washington, President Biden's nominee to head the FAA.

Washington is currently the chief executive of the Denver International Airport, a post he has held for less than two years after a long career in mass transit leadership and the military. Republicans have already sharply criticized the pick, citing Washington's lack of experience in aviation.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.