The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating three incidents involving aircraft taking off and landing at Orlando International Airport that occurred during a three-week period in October.
In one case, a commercial airline pilot was forced to abort a landing. In the other two, pilots of smaller aircraft may have failed to heed air traffic control instructions, according to the FAA.
“This is an anomaly. We usually don’t have multiple events in a short time span,” said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.
Shortly before midnight on Oct. 9, USAirways flight 1857, which originated in Charlotte, N.C., was given clearance by air traffic controllers to land at Orlando International Airport. But shortly before the plane should have touched down, the US Airways pilot executed a “missed approach” and announced he was “going around” because another commercial aircraft, United Airlines flight 1692, was still on the runway.
“This is (USAirways) 1857. What was going on down there? We were going to land right on top of him?” a member of the flight crew asked over the radio.
“Negative, sir,” responded an OIA air traffic controller.
The FAA confirms the US Airways jet did not fly over the United Airlines plane. “A ‘missed approach’ is a routine safety procedure that pilots or controllers can initiate when either believes that a landing cannot be completed,” said Bergen.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 24, a Cessna Citation aircraft took off from OIA, en route to Kansas. But according to the FAA, the pilot did not follow air traffic control instructions to turn the northeast. Around that same time, a JetBlue E-190 aircraft departed from an adjacent runway.
“Traffic alert. Traffic immediately beneath you. E-190. A thousand feet,” an air traffic controller warned the Cessna pilot. “Expedite your climb now. Climb or maintain 8,000 (feet) please.”
The FAA has not yet determined how close the Cessna may have come to the jetBlue aircraft. The agency defines a “near midair collision” as potentially occurring when two aircraft are flown less than 500 feet apart.
The Cessna is owned by Mustang Aviation in Wichita, Kansas. A representative of the company could not be reached for comment.
Just three days after that incident, on October 27, the FAA said another pilot also failed to follow air traffic control instructions.
As Palm Beach Jets 225 was approaching OIA, the pilot of the Hawker H25B aircraft was cleared to land on runway 17 Right, following behind a Boeing 757 aircraft. However, in air traffic control recordings, the pilot indicates he is heading towards an adjacent runway.
“Palm Beach Jets, where you going?” asks the air traffic controller.
“(Runway) 17 Left,” replies the pilot.
“Climb to 3,000 (feet) immediately. Traffic behind you,” instructs the air traffic controller. “(Runway) 17 Right is on the east side of the airport, buddy.”
When the air traffic controller asks the pilot why he did not follow behind the Boeing 757, the pilot responds, “Misunderstanding.”
As the Palm Beach Jets pilot begins to circle and prepare for another landing, he asks the air traffic controller for instructions, but does not receive an immediate response.
“Palm Beach Jets 225, you need to turn to the south-southwest. You’re headed into Orlando Executive airspace,” said the air traffic controller, expressing concern that the Hawker is flying towards another the nearby airport.
“We’ll tighten up the turn,” responded the Palm Beach Jets pilot a short time before safely touching down at OIA.
Palm Beach Jets representatives did not respond to a voicemail and email left at the company’s headquarters. According to their website, Palm Beach Jets is an air charter broker that does not own, manage, or operate aircraft.
“During an investigation, the FAA gathers all available information, including radar data, voice recordings and statements from pilots to determine whether a pilot deviation occurred,” said the agency spokeswoman.
If the FAA finds that a pilot accidentally or intentionally ignored air traffic control instructions, the agency can propose enforcement action. Possible sanctions can include a warning letter, a civil penalty, or the suspension or revocation of the pilot’s certificate, according to the FAA.