Airborne Close Calls Over Connecticut

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    NEWSLETTERS

    We hear about tragic accidents like plane crashes when they happen, but the Troubleshooters have tracked down what you don't hear about:  the number of near misses above us and what's being done to avoid potential catastrophes.

    Connecticut's airports were bustling with activity in 2012.  More than 400,000 planes took off and landed and transported nearly six million passengers.
     
    According to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), pilots and air traffic controllers anonymously reported 281 aviation conflicts in Connecticut since 1992.  The number includes 68 near mid-air collisions (NMACs).
     
    "Anytime you have reports of near mid-air collisions, it's something to be concerned about," said aviation safety consultant Gabe Bruno.
     
    The crew of an air carrier preparing to land at Bradley International Airport in 2010 reported hearing the sound of two F-15 fighter jets passing nearby.  The reported incident was categorized in the ASRS as a NMAC.
     
    Pilots say NMACs are almost always a surprise.  NMACs typically occur when two planes come less than 500 feet away from each other or when a pilot believes a collision hazard existed.  Reporting them can also be subjective.
     
    "Near mid-air collisions are almost a pilot's worst nightmare," said pilot David Faile.
     
    The ASRS results for Connecticut include airspace violations, ground incursions and animal strikes.
     
    A Southwest Airlines jet hit multiple birds before landing at Bradley last October.  The aircraft was damaged but no one was hurt.
     
    Eleven aviation conflicts in Connecticut since 2010 were reported to the ASRS.  Four occurred at Bradley and the rest across the state. 
     
    According to a witness, two planes narrowly missed each other on the runway at Danbury Municipal Airport in January 2012.
     
    "We do about 70,000 operations a year so when you have that much movement, that much activity, there are going to be some instances," said assistant airport administrator Michael Safranek.
     
    Pilots tell us reports to the ASRS are filed anonymously because there's no fear of reprisal.  The Federal Aviation Administration also uses information from the ASRS, but has its own reporting database called the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) system.
     
    The FAA said in an emailed statement, "While ASRS data can be useful, it has some inherent limitations. The reports represent a subjective opinion or perception about an event and do not always include complete information."
     
    The National Air Traffic Controller Association said the ASRS should be used with other objective data streams to determine the full extent of any reported safety issue.
     
    However, there could be more close calls and near misses that go unreported.
     
    "The FAA has long been notorious for having a database that's full of inaccuracies and non-reporting," Bruno said.
     
    Bruno said the FAA's system is less reliable because the information is filtered through outside analysts who are susceptible to political pressure.
     
    Still, information from the ASRS is open to the public.  Some flight instructors use the data as a teaching tool.
     
    "They can take a look at how is air traffic control handling the situation?  Are pilots not aware, maybe, of the air space?  Can we do a better job as instructors or just a better job as pilots?" said Jarret Gran of Connecticut Flight Academy.
     
    While the reported close calls over Connecticut may raise a lot of questions, pilots say it's never been safer to fly.
     
    "We have great air traffic control facilities here and flying in general is very safe," Gran said.
     
    The FAA is currently developing a next generation safety system to keep better track of aircraft.  The satellite-based system is also designed to improve safety in areas where radar cannot reach.

    Airborne Close Calls

    [HAR] Airborne Close Calls
    The Troubleshooters have tracked down the number of anonymously reported near misses over Connecticut and what’s being done to avoid potential catastrophes. (Published Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013)