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Plane Carrying Phils From San Fran Had Close Call

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The plane carrying the Phillies back from San Francisco Friday morning had a close call while trying to land at Philadelphia International Airport.

Eyewitness News has learned the Phillies’ chartered Delta 747 was just seconds away from landing when an air traffic controller told another plane to move onto the runway for takeoff. The Phillies’ plane in fact was closer than FAA guidelines generally allow.

The pilot of the plane on the ground, American Airlines 1209, thought it did not seem right.

“The guy on final [approach] looks awfully close,” he said to the air traffic controller on an audio recording of the incident obtained by Eyewitness News.

“All right American 1209, hold short of runway 27-Right,” the air traffic controller responded.

“Actually, we just passed the hold short line,” the American pilot said.

The hold short line is a mark on the taxiway that airplanes are not to cross unless they’re taking off or crossing a runway. The air traffic controller then told the American Airlines plane to proceed across the runway.

“American 1209, cross runway 27-Right,” he said.

Fifteen seconds later followed this urgent message: “American 1209, no delay cross runway 27-Right!”

“We’re not going to make it,” the American Airlines pilot responded.

At that point, the air traffic controller asked the Phillies’ pilot if he would be willing to switch runways, landing instead on runway 27-Left. That runway had been closed that morning for construction, but an FAA spokesman said coincidentally, it was able to be reopened at this point.

“Negative,” responded the Phillies’ pilot.

“Go around, climb and maintain 3,000” feet, the air traffic controller told the Phillies’ pilot. That means he must abort the landing, circle the airport and try again. In the background, someone shouts an expletive. Moments later an unknown voice is heard saying only: “Wow.”


“That’s when these airplanes typically have an accident. That pilot wanted no parts of switching runways that close in, two miles in, so he declined that,” said aviation attorney Arthur Wolk. “Every airplane that time of the day at this airport was using the very same runway. That creates a problem; it’s a traffic jam.”

Wolk says it appears the air traffic controller tried to do too much with too little time.

Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro says he noticed the aborted landing onboard the plane.

“Oh yeah, we had to circle, circle back around,” he told Eyewitness News when asked about the incident.

A spokesman for the FAA says general guidelines call for planes to be kept three miles apart. But when the American airliner was told to move onto the runway, the Phillies’ 747 was only two and a half miles out. When told of that, the spokesman said it’s a judgment call on the part of the air traffic controller.

“I think the tower controller was enthusiastic to get two departures out before the Phillies airplane – the 747 – landed,” Wolk said. “Unfortunately, things kind of backed up in a hurry and he wasn’t able to do that.”

Wolk says that’s what causes risk.

“That’s to me where the series of potential errors that could lead to an incident or an accident began,” he said.

Don Chapman, a spokesman for the union representing the air traffic controller, says from his perspective the blame lies with the pilot of the American Airlines flight. He says that pilot moved too slowly.

Reported By: Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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Comments

One Comment

  1. Larry says:

    CBS 3 is trying to call this worthless piece of sensationalist junk a news story? Now we have armchair controllers and non-pilots second-guessing what goes on in the busy airspace over Philadelphia. In my opinion, Arthur Wolk is the worst of them all for propagating these fears.

    When this story broke yesterday, the initial article went into great detail explaining the danger when a construction truck pulled onto the runway as a plane took off. The audio in today’s version, where the pilot warns that incoming traffic is “awfully close”, was associated with the truck incident in yesterday’s article. That made no sense whatsoever. Great reporting, CBS!

    Every time I pilot an aircraft over Philadelphia, I know how difficult their job is and I have the greatest respect for the skill and professionalism of these tower controllers. Yesterday’s article highlighted an excellent record of 200,000 safe flights in Philadelphia vs. 21 “incidents” like this one. Today they conveniently removed that little statistic, maybe to back up their story and keep the emotion level high.

    Throughout the entire incident, our beloved home team had very high probability of surviving the ordeal unscathed. Most of them probably had no idea anything was amiss. Shame on Ben Simmoneau for reporting that a plane pulled onto the runway when the Phillies “were just a couple of seconds from landing”, and for further intoning that “On the field, the Phillies had a lot of close calls during the National League Championship Series, but perhaps their closest came OFF the field in the skies over Philadelphia International Airport”.

    Yeah guys, it must have been a really slow news day.

  2. scot says:

    Non issue… if the 747 got closer to the runway, he would have went around. At 2.5 to 3 miles out, he still had another minute before he crosses the runway. A MD80 could have taken off in that minute and be well clear of the runway by the time the 747 landed.

    The MD80 farted around and the 747 pilot had to make a decision. Go arounds like that happen all the time.

    I guarantee you the 747 would not have landed with the MD80 still there.

  3. Unorthodox Possum says:

    Dawn is an idiot. Period.

  4. WM says:

    This story is over dramatized, if the 747 pilot was secounds from touchdown, he would have seen the traffic on the runway, and would have declared an abort and go around with ATC.

  5. BB says:

    doesnt look like chopper 3 will be allowed into the bravo anymore they going to say this stuff about controllers they shouldnt let them in to get their aerial shots

  6. MM says:

    They should have let Howard fly the plane, no chance he was gonna hit something that involved bringing his teammates home.

    1. Larry says:

      Heh heh!! MM that is cold. d|:8])

  7. DD says:

    American Airlines is notorious for their slow departures. Southwest should give lessons on departures that help out ATC.

  8. JMW says:

    Thank you AJ for your explanation. It’s nice to have the melodramatic news people exposed for trying to make a story when there was none. It must have been a boring news day. I wonder if this would have been even considered a news story if it wasn’t the plane the phillies were on.

  9. AJ says:

    i am a controller at PHL and this is not what the news is making it out to be. First of all there is no curse word in the background we pulled the tapes here at the facility and listened over and over and heard nothing even close to a bad word. Second the 747 was really 3 miles out and not 2.5 like the controller said. As controllers we tell them that the traffic is closer in hopes that they speed up and get more prepared for takeoff rather than farting around on the runway like this pilot did and if you do not believe me go pull the tapes of the radar scope during this situation and you will see that he was 3 miles out and deffinitely was not “seconds away” from landing please stop being so dramatic about it. The controller did a good job and everything right in this situation lack of co operation from the pilot led to this go around if he felt he couldnt do this he should have told us before he got on the runway. Now before everyone bashes controllers about this think about it like this do you believe a helicopter that was hovering in the air and tapes that are found online or do you believe the ppl that were actually there working the situation

  10. EJ says:

    All I can say is that I was there at the time of the incident. Watched it and listened to it happen. It would have been a non issue if the American MD-80 went in position when the Local controller told him to. The Delta 747 would have been about 3.5 out for 27R by the time the American was in position. But because he decided to take his time getting in position that ate up all the time. The MD-80 would have been airborne by the time the 747 was 1 mile out if they had taxied their aircraft in a expeditious manner. American MD-80 crews are notorious to the controlling community for being very slow on some occasions while initiating instructions on the ground.

  11. David B. says:

    In this situation, FAA regulations would apply as follows:

    Because at least one aircraft in this scenario was a turbo jet aircraft (Phillie’s 747), the two aircraft, when using the same runway, must be separated by one of the following:

    1) at least 6000′ and the departing aircraft (American 1209) must be airborne prior to when the arrival aircraft crosses the runway threshold.

    2) The departing aircraft is airborne and has cleared the departure end of the runway prior to when the arrival aircraft crosses the runway threshold.

    or 3) the departing aircraft is airborne and has turned to avoid conflict prior to when the arrival aircraft crosses the runway threshold.

    Based on the information reported, the controller was completely legal regarding aircraft separation. Furthermore, instead of trying to force the situation, the controller acted appropriately by ordering the Phillie’s 747 to execute a “go-around”.

    If the American airlines pilot was concerned enough about the inbound aircraft that he questioned the instructions from ATC, it was then his responsibility to remain at the hold short lines. Instead, he taxied onto the runway where his hesitation nearly caused an accident.

    1. Dawn says:

      “The departing aircraft is airborne and has cleared the departure end of the runway prior to when the arrival aircraft crosses the runway threshold.” “Based on the information reported, the controller was completely legal regarding aircraft separation.”

      David B – based on your comment I would say that you are crazy and belong on Amtrak. Noone wants to be on a runway with another jet less than 500 feet behind you bareling at speeds of 150+mph. Warn us before you fly or travel. Amtrak was made for people like you.

      1. J says:

        “David B – based on your comment I would say that you are crazy and belong on Amtrak. Noone wants to be on a runway with another jet less than 500 feet behind you bareling at speeds of 150+mph. Warn us before you fly or travel. Amtrak was made for people like you.”

        Thank you for showing us your complete ignorance of how aviation works, and the fact that you can’t read and comprehend statements. Please show me where in Dave’s copy and paste from the air traffic rule book where one aircraft will be “bareling at 150mph” less than 500 feet behind you?

        In this scenario the American aircraft would be airborne and at least 6000 (that’s 6 thousand not hundred) feet down the runway for legal separation. Also acceptable is that it would be airborne and past the departure end of the runway. This means the American is airborne and past the far end of the runway, which in this case is 9500 feet long (nearly 2 miles for those of you keeping track), although since this runway is greater than 6000 feet long, the first rule mentioned can be applied instead.

        I should also mention that CBS’ great piece of typical sensationalist garbage reporting here mentions a rule about aircraft being at least 3 miles apart. This rule exists, however it does not apply at all in this situation. 3 miles is used for radar separation of in flight aircraft. Radar separation is not applicable in the tower in this scenario. Runway separation is what matters, which is what was explained above. I guess CBS’ “expert” Mr. Wolk decided to overlook that little detail when he gave his two cents about this situation.

        So Dawn, since you seem to like to drink the over-hyped media kool-aid and jump to crazy conclusions, from another Air Traffic Controller at PHL, please stay out of my airport and “stick to Amtrak”.

      2. FYI says:

        @dawn if this 747 was cleared to land on a “500 foot” runway, as you’re suggesting, PHL international has bigger problems than controllers trying to kill local sports teams.

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