NTSB: All parties share blame in airport near-miss

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Federal investigators say a communication breakdown is to blame for a near collision two years ago between an Alaska Airlines jet carrying 58 people and a snowplow at the Juneau Airport.

However, investigator Scott Erickson of the National Transportation Safety Board in Anchorage concluded no one broke any laws.

Nobody was hurt in November 1999 when the Boeing 737-400 touched down and had to swerve to avoid a snowplow traveling on the right side of the runway. But the plane's right wing came within 32 feet of the snowplow, according to the report.

The plane was scheduled to land before the air traffic control tower opened for the day, so airport workers and pilots were communicating by radio with the Federal Aviation Administration's flight service station, which is not within sight of the runway.

The airport's maintenance crew was training a new employee at the time.

The NTSB faulted the flight crew for failing to tell the FAA station the aircraft was close to the runway. Although the jet's crew contacted the FAA station when the plane was 25 miles away, the crew failed to advise the agency again at 10 miles, Erickson said.

The crew is not required to do that when the tower is closed, but Alaska Airlines' own policy recommended it, Erickson said.

The report also faulted the FAA station for failing to tell the pilot that maintenance workers were on the runway.

Carol Veazie, manager of the Juneau flight service station, said the FAA planned to mention the snowplow when the flight crew called from 10 miles out, but that call never came. The FAA did not mention the snowplow when the pilot called from 25 miles because the plow had temporarily left the runway to let a cargo plane land, she said.

''At the time Alaska Airlines called at 25 miles out, the runway was clear,'' Veazie said.

The report also said the snowplow driver failed to verify the imminent arrival of the airplane. The FAA station told the driver of the jet 10 minutes before it landed. That was the last communication between the driver and the FAA before the incident.

No one broke any laws, because communication is mandatory only when the air traffic control tower is open, Erickson said. When it's closed -- as it was that morning -- pilots and airport workers are encouraged but not required to keep others abreast of their whereabouts, he said.

The near miss prompted some changes. The control tower expanded its hours last year, so it is open during all scheduled passenger-carrying Alaska Airlines flights, said Steve Turner, control tower manager.

Also, Alaska Airlines now requires its pilots to contact the FAA station from 10 miles away when the tower is closed, company spokesman Jack Evans said.

In addition, the FAA station will communicate the whereabouts of airport workers and equipment to pilots and the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center, which tracks the flights, said the FAA's Veazie.

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