Why the Austin airport situation was so dangerous.
The preliminary report into this incident was published by Aviation News, and can be found in the link below (not available on NTSB website, however). The graphic shows just how close these two aircraft came on a foggy runway in the early morning last month. It also points out the situational awareness of the FedEx crew, and the alert First Officer who was the pilot monitoring during the approach.
“According to the captain of FDX1432, he noted that at an altitude of about 150 feet, the FO called go-around after visually seeing SWA708 at approximately 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet from the approach end of the runway. At 0640:34 one of the FDX1432 crew broadcasted ‘Southwest abort’ and then at 0640:37 broadcasted that ‘FedEx is on the go.’ According to the SWA708 pilot narratives, the captain noted that somewhere between the speeds of 80 KIAS and V1, he and the first officer heard FedEx call for a go-around.” https://www.avweb.com/aviation-news/ntsb-prelim-details-austin-overflight-incident/
I can’t get enough of your writing, Mr Fallows. “Blind into Baghdad” is (without a doubt) the one article from a periodical that I have shared more frequently than any other. Save for a college classmate sharing this article on Facebook, I would not have found you in this space. Answering the question Anna Wiener asked in The New Yorker, “yes,” Substack is the future we want.
I appreciate the diversity of topics JF knows tp present with competence.
In my frequent flyer times (as a passenger), I remember the go around thrill at least thrice. San Francisco seems to have been the closest call, as the plane was practically on the ground already. At Zürich, Switzerland, and Olbia, Italy, the situation seemed less dramatic. All three pilots explained pretty soon and with a reassuringly steady voice: There was someone else still on the runway.
I admired the pilot of the 737 in Sardinia the most: He was young, it was a charter plane, and we had been delayed for more than an hour already for reasons not under his control. This must have put some pressure on him and his crew and thus opened a path to more risk taking - which he didn't take.
I appreciate to understand better what happens between heaven and earth.
from a former frequent flyer, travelling for nonprofit causes: your articles are great! I think that this substack format allows the author to expound on any topic and follow any theme, so I for one am having fun just reading. Choose your content. I signed on just to read what you are writing, not to guide it. With respect and understanding of other posts. Write on and write what you like.
Frequent flyers who live in airports and hotels understand how the airline industry works. Was this event caused by the old airport technology that needs upgrading? Or the tower crew was tired? In America, we are pennywise and pound foolish. We need to pour money into upgrading our airport infrastructure, schools, and neighborhoods. In a nod to environmental green issues, Europe is now starting to ban short hops and creating rail alternatives to cut airline carbon footprints. Americans never even hear of these green intiatives from our corporate controlled media. (some studies show that up to 85% of tv cable news content is controlled by the advertisers)
More aviation articles are very welcome, it is a field of study and expertise from America's journalist
but, it is also wonderful that everyone is safe, tragedy averted. Would a rested tower crew, rested airline crew, extra weather precaution, or upgraded technology/airport safety have helped?
Frequent travellers have been in many dicey situations. Flying into a driving blizzard with high winds in Boston in the 1990's, at night, our plane had taken off from New York and reached Boston in about 50 min. The approach is right over the ocean until the last minute so it is already scary. The pilot missed the first approach because the blizzard was raging, and cheerfully informed us, "well, we'll just try that again!" He circled all the way around in a big giant circle. (In my mind, I was already saying, gee that's ok, let's just divert to Rhode Island!) Try #2 didn't work either, the wind was just too high and it was pushing us sideways off the runway. "No problem!" the pilot informed us, as we circled around again in white out blizzard conditions, "we'll land this time!" And we did. Just another terrifying shuttle flight from New York, scared out of our minds as we trotted down the hallway to get our bags. Out into the Boston night, getting home in the blizzard and 3 feet of snow, a huge storm.
Like to suggest more varied topics. Too many stories on flight related issues for me.
To my earlier post, "situational awareness" was a skill that was sacrosanct throughout my airline flying career. I'm skeptical that operational automation can ever replace that. So far in these reports, what I'm seeing is that the Fedex crew demonstrated it, to the benefit of all. Automation, in the form of the CAT-III autopilot autoland approach may have helped the Fedex crew's ability to assess their operational situation without the distraction of a hand-flown approach procedure in this case, which is far more attention intensive for both pilots. The 'go-around' call was a real time evaluation, its execution based on pilot-controller communications that automation would most likely not be aware of, and couldn't react to. But the Fedex pilots did. They figured it out in time.
There's an old saying, "If not for the last minute, most things wouldn't get done." I think a corollary might be, "If not for the grace of <God, circumstances, karma, luck, etc.>, most near misses WOULD involve body bags." Whether we realize it or not, we rely on this grace of whatever just like we rely on the last minute - far too often. I suppose that's human nature. But here we're not talking about finishing that article at 3 AM, we're talking about the possibility of catastrophic loss of life.
So, yes - this is a lesson in flashing neon, and I pray that the powers that be will be able to apply the essential resources to study and learn from this narrowly missed tragedy. I kind of like the idea of not repeating Tenerife.
If the FedEx crew are the heroes in this scenario, is it possible to specify who -- the Southwest pilot or the air-traffic controller -- might have made some serious mistake(s), or will we need to wait for a more thorough investigation?
From what I know about coincidence, I'm guessing that these two incidents happening so close together in time is sheer coincidence, and that unless there are more of these happening that you weren't aware of, it could be a decade or two before there's another, similar close call. If this isn't, or even if it might not be sheer coincidence, please explain.
Posts like this are why I spend money to read you. What a richly informative post.
Great post, Jim. Thank you for explaining so clearly how bad this almost was. And man, you're right about the Right Stuff thing. No shouting, no raised voices. Amazing.
Read an account yesterday *sound of jaw dropping*. One hopes there will be controllers looking for a new way to make a living.