Another near-miss at Hobby prompts federal safety review


by Jeremy Desel / 11 News

Posted on May 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM

HOUSTON -- Near mid-air collisions are rare, if you consider the sheer number of flights in the air each day.  That's why two near-miss incidents at Hobby Airport in just eight days have the FAA doing a full investigation of the procedures, personnel and even equipment used to control aircraft there.
"We're using this opportunity to go in and thoroughly review all of the procedures that we are using and if we find something that needs to be done differently to improve safety we will do it," said Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The latest incident happened May 6 and involved a Southwest jet on final approach to Hobby Airport.
A Cessna was given clearance by air traffic control to cross the Hobby airspace into the path of the jet.
The Southwest plane’s terminal collision avoidance system signaled a warning to go around and the pilot did just that.
The planes were a mile apart horizontally and 400 feet vertically.
That is technically a violation of aircraft separation rules, which require planes near airports be apart at least one and a half miles horizontally and 500 feet vertically.
The first incident was much closer.
On April 28 a full Southwest jet taking off from Hobby had to drop power and duck under a news helicopter that was also taking off.  Both aircraft were cleared by the tower.
The radar tapes show those aircraft came within 120 feet of each other -- less than the jet’s wingspan.
That’s enough to make arriving passengers leery.

“I'd certainly like for them to investigate and do what they can to prevent it," said Jane, a traveler from New York.
The FAA’s Lunsford said that is exactly what a team of FAA investigators are doing.

"We believe that the procedures that we have in place are robust and I believe that the safety record speaks for itself. Having said that though we are obviously concerned any time that we have any type of incident," he said.
Both of the incidents happened in the early afternoon and both were being handled by the Hobby Tower.
Two different controllers were involved.  The FAA calls them both experienced controllers.
The news helicopter involved in the first incident is leased to several local television stations, including Channel 11.
It could be as soon as next week that the FAA announces changes in how the tower is staffed, potentially adding at least one person during busy periods.