Monday, March 12, 2007

Atlanta runway incursion causes aborted takeoff

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767 that had just begun its takeoff roll had to abort after a controller mistakenly cleared two other aircraft to taxi across the runway into the path of the departing aircraft. The Delta flight aborted the takeoff, turned onto a taxiway and rejoined the line-up for its departure to Los Angeles.

The incident happened at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. This was the second aborted takeoff due to controller error at that airport in three months.

Here is an account of what happened, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The controller cleared Delta 509 at about 12:10 p.m. to take off on Runway 26 Left, which is about 10,000 feet long. Fourteen seconds later, the same controller cleared a Midwest Airlines Boeing 717 and an ASA CRJ to taxi across the runway downfield.

The Midwest jet had moved onto the runway and the ASA plane had crossed the "hold short" line that separates the taxiway from the runway when alarms in the control tower alerted air traffic controllers of the danger. The controller cancelled Delta Flight 509's takeoff while the plane was traveling about 40 miles an hour, then slowed and turned off the runway. It got back in line for takeoff and left uneventfully a few minutes later.

The Delta and Midwest planes were about 3,500 feet apart at their nearest point.
Gary Brittain, a veteran controller at Hartsfield-Jackson, said mistakes are being made at the Atlanta tower because controllers are being short-staffed and overworked.

"This is the kind of thing that happens when you've got controllers working six-day weeks, week after week," he said. "They're beginning to crack a little."

The controller who reportedly caused the incident was decertified, subject to retraining.

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