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FAA says controller let two jets get too close at La Guardia Airport

March 19, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ An air traffic controller allowed two airliners to fly too close to each other as one took off from La Guardia Airport and the other arrived, the Federal Aviation Administration said today.

``There was an operational error,″ said Arlene Salac, an FAA spokeswoman.

The planes, from U.S. Airways and Delta, had a horizontal separation of 1 1/2 miles during the March 6 incident but their vertical separation was just 500 feet, the FAA found. The agency requires 1,000 feet vertically and 3 miles horizontally.

The FAA today also cleared the flight crews and controller involved in an earlier incident at La Guardia in which the pilots of two jets aborted their landings.

Salac discounted earlier accounts that those jets, from United Airlines and American Airlines, came within 50 feet of each other, saying an investigation showed that did not happen.

The FAA found that the United pilot aborted his landing because the American pilot momentarily failed to communicate with air traffic control, leaving him unsure of the other plane’s intended course. Controllers also told the American pilot to abort his landing.

In the March 6 incident, the U.S. Airways flight, a Boeing 737, which was heading to West Palm Beach, Fla., was about 4 miles from the airport and climbing to 5,000 feet when its automated collision avoidance alarm sounded. The Delta plane, a Boeing 757, was arriving from Cincinnati.

The U.S. Airways pilot changed course slightly and continued on his way.

The FAA found that the air traffic controller incorrectly assumed that the U.S. Airways flight would pass behind the arriving Delta.

The controller was given refresher training and was recertified before going back to his duties, the FAA said.

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