Near-misses have become far too common for passenger air travel in the United States. There have been six serious close calls since the start of the year. While no one has been injured or killed in an incident, the opportunity for a near-miss to become a horrific tragedy is still present. Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a call for vigilance across the entire industry and also published an analysis of a January near-miss involving an ambulance.
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On January 12th, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 was cleared to take off from Runway 15R at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). WDVM reported the plane was given clearance just moments before an ambulance crossed the same runway. According to the FAA, the ambulance driver was instructed by air traffic control to cross Runway 10 and to stop short of 15R. The driver read back the incorrect instructions, “Tower 349, crossing 10 and 15R,” and proceeded to cross both runways. When the air traffic controller realized the error and corrected the driver, the ambulance had already crossed the runway.
The FAA estimates that the Southwest plane came within 173 feet of the ambulance when it reached the crossed intersection. For reference, the wingspan of a Boeing 737 is 117 feet. The plane had also already taken off at the point on the runway, but was put at significant risk of collision. BWI sent a statement to WDVM reading:
“A BWI Marshall Airport Fire and Rescue Department firefighter and medic vehicle crossed a runway without air traffic control authorization. The airport fully cooperated and shared information with the FAA regarding the incident. Based on review of the incident, new procedures were immediately implemented to help ensure safety and to prevent a similar incident in the future. Safety and security remain the highest priorities for BWI Marshall Airport.”
While commercial plane crashes in the United States are extremely rare, the state of aviation safety is actively monitored to ensure that these tragedies remain rare. Last week, the FAA hosted its first safety summit in 14 years to organize an industry-wide response to the recent spat of near-misses. While changes won’t be made overnight, the FAA is aimed to address the systemic issues that it identifies.