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a collision between two planes narrowly avoided at Roissy after a slip of the tongue

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BFM Paris

Focusing on one area, an airport controller made a mistake by allowing an aircraft to land on a runway where another aircraft was due to take off.

In a report published Monday, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (BEA) looks back on a “serious incident” on July 20, 2020, in which two planes nearly collided, due to a mistake of the air traffic controller when issuing the landing permit at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport.

The two aircraft were a Boeing 787 flying United Airlines Flight 57 from Newark Airport (United States) preparing to land, and an EasyJet Airbus A320 preparing to take off from the airport.

“Forked His Tongue”

Everything takes place between the names of two airport runways, the 09L and the 09R. When the Boeing 787 asked where to land on the morning of July 20, the air traffic controller thought “to clear it for landing on runway 09L. She thinks ‘her tongue was forked’ because she was focused on runway 09R”, where a plane had just landed, the report explains. So she told this plane to land in 09R.

But at the same time, the A320 goes to the same runway to take off.

In the Airbus, “on entering the runway, the crew looks again at the axis of the final and this time sees the Boeing 787 tilted towards runway 09R,” the report explains. “The captain understands that the Boeing 787 makes a bayonet” [une technique d’atterrissage, ndlr] and brakes the aircraft while it is already about ten meters on the runway, perpendicular to the centerline of the runway. The Boeing 787 was then about 300 ft high”, or about 90 meters, and 1300 m (0.7 NM) from the runway threshold.

The collision was therefore narrowly avoided that day, as the Boeing 787 descended low before being warned and regaining altitude, the report said. “It flies over the Airbus A320 at an altitude of just over 300 ft and continues the go-around followed by a new approach to runway 09L without further incident.”

“The slip is an inherent flaw in the current system”

The BEA explains this language error for several possible reasons. On the one hand, at that time, the air traffic controller was essentially controlling traffic on runway 09R, a runway where “one landing, two departures and two crossings of this upcoming runway” took place. On the other hand, she was not in the best position in the control tower to observe the area she was supposed to monitor, the screen of the usual place “was off and, according to the controllers, appeared to be off”.

The report also points to a possible “lack of exercise” by the air traffic controller, due to “the decrease in traffic during the period of the Covid-19 health crisis”. In addition, the Boeing crew used the term “to understand” instead of “confirm“when re-validating the landing, which “could have gotten more attention from the controller.”

Finally, the local safety commission (CLS) of the air navigation service at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport specifies that the slip is an inherent flaw in the current system in which people occupy a large place, given the alternation between right and left tracks”.

Following this incident, the Air Navigation Service (SNA) of Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport has set up a working group to clarify the orders given and the requests for details from the crews in the future.

Salome Vincenton BFMTV reporter

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