Limited airfield space, heavy traffic and construction work on a new runway have been blamed for what the Boston Globe described as a “troubling surge in runway incidents” at an airport through which thousands of passengers will be traveling to and from Ireland in the days running up to the holidays.
Sixteen runway incidents at the airport were recorded between Oct. 1, 2004 and Sept. 30 of this year on what the Globe described as Logan’s “tangle of runways and taxiways.”
This was the highest total for that period in any U.S. airport.
The incident among the sixteen that has generated the lion’s share of press attention is the near-disaster involving an Aer Lingus Airbus A330 and a U.S. Airways Boeing 737.
The Airbus, with 260 passengers on board, almost collided with the U.S. Airways jet, but tragedy was averted by a pilot’s quick thinking.
The near miss prompted investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The incident occurred on June 9, after both jets had been wrongly cleared for near-simultaneous takeoff at intersecting runways.
The Shannon-bound Aer Lingus plane, which had twelve crewmembers on board in addition to the passengers, had just taken off as the U.S. Airways plane was heading down the other runway and about to do the same.
The difference between the near miss and what would have been a calamitous collision was only a few seconds.
The U.S. airways plane, a Boeing 737, was bound for Philadelphia with 103 passengers and six crewmembers aboard.
The Aer Lingus plane was cleared for takeoff on Logan’s Runway 15R. According to the NTSB, the U.S. Airways Boeing was then cleared on the intersecting Runway 9.
Investigators immediately pointed to an “operational error” by air traffic controllers as the cause of the incident.
In its preliminary report, the NTSB stated that both aircraft were “involved in a runway incursion.”
The time lapse between the clearances, which were given by separate controllers, was just five seconds.
Disaster was averted when the co-pilot of the U.S. airways Boeing saw the Aer Lingus plane speeding down the runway for takeoff.
He told his captain to keep the Boeing on the ground even as it was gathering speed. The Aer Lingus plane lifted off the ground and passed over the U.S. Airways jet.
The incident resulted in the controllers being suspended and sent for retraining.
Later it was discovered that the situation had been made even more hazardous because a warning system designed to keep taxiing planes at safe distances from each other had failed, due to a software problem.
The incident was highlighted during a recent hearing in Washington D.C. before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee.
It also loomed large in what the Globe described as “an intensive five week investigation” resulting in more than forty recommended changes at Logan which were announced jointly last week by the FAA and Massachusetts Port Authority, or Massport.
The recommendations — some of which have already been implemented — include “placing strict limits on planes taking off on runways not normally part of takeoff patterns.”
It was such a scenario that led to the five-second miss in June.
The Globe’s report stated: “Though officials say that planes had little chance of colliding in most of the episodes, on June 9 two airliners carrying a combined total of 381 passengers and crew came within 106 vertical feet of each other as they sped toward take off on intersecting runways.
“Though no one was injured, the incident focused attention on runway near-collisions at Logan, which were not being made public by the FAA or Massport.”
First opened in 1923, Logan is currently ranked as the 17th busiest airport in the U.S., with over 1,200 daily arrivals and departures.
The airport covers 2,400 acres, has five passenger terminals, five runways, fourteen miles of taxiway and 237 acres of concrete and asphalt apron, according to the Massport website.
The airport was named after General Edward Lawrence Logan, a prominent Massachusetts politician and veteran of the Spanish American War.
There is no record of Logan ever having flown in a plane.