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Near-Miss on the Runway at Allentown Exposes FAA Failures That Continue To Put Too Many Trainees in Towers - (9/22/2008)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – A Mesa Airlines regional jet was forced to abort its takeoff and swerve on the runway to miss a Cessna on Friday evening at Lehigh Valley International Airport. There were two Federal Aviation Administration employees in the tower, both controller trainees.

The incident comes as the House Aviation Subcommittee prepares to hold a follow-up hearing this Thursday on runway safety. NATCA President Patrick Forrey will be testifying.

At approximately 7:35 p.m. EDT Friday, the Cessna landed on Runway 6. The Mesa Airlines regional jet (RJ), ASH7138 headed to Chicago O’Hare, was instructed to taxi into position and hold its position on the runway. The Cessna was told to exit the runway at Taxiway A4 and taxi to the ramp on the local control radio frequency.

The trainee working local control in the tower thought they saw the Cessna clear the runway and cleared the RJ for takeoff. But the Cessna missed its taxiway and was still on the runway as the RJ was picking up speed. The RJ saw the Cessna and aborted its takeoff but was close enough to the small plane that it had to swerve to the left to avoid a collision. The jet returned to the ramp and the flight to O’Hare was canceled.

Of the 31 on board in the tower and radar control room at this FAA facility, 11 are trainees. That is 35 percent, which NATCA believes is far too many trainees than a facility can safely train.

“This was a very serious incident that points out all of the problems with the ramifications of the FAA's understaffing issues nationwide and our concerns about allowing newly and partially certified controllers to work on their own,” Forrey said. “The FAA is so desperate to staff its towers they are forced to work trainees by themselves without adequate numbers of experienced controllers there to work with them. This has exposed the inexperience of our new workforce. These new hires are paying a heavy price for the continued failures of this reckless FAA management team. It’s unfair to these trainees and should be unacceptable to the flying public.”

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