Air traffic controller’s ‘slip tongue’ nearly causes plane crash

(CNN) – A “slip of the tongue” was noticed by an air traffic controller at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport as the two planes came within 300 feet of hitting each other last July, according to a report released Tuesday.

In the July 20, 2020 incident, a United Airlines Boeing 787 arriving from Newark, New Jersey, and an EasyJet Airbus A320, were preparing to take off on their way to Málaga, Spain, as reported by the French Air Safety Investigation Authority for civilian As per the report of Aviation (BEA).

According to the report, the plane was taking off from runway 09R and landing at 09L, but the controller asked the United Airlines plane to land on 09R.

Reportedly the crew sought to confirm the change of runway by using the words “understand” and “shore for 9 right”.

However, the controller did not check the readback from the crew and asked the EasyJet aircraft to line up for takeoff from runway 09R.

At this point the United Airlines plane was still ready to land at 09L, so the crew began the maneuver, but when they checked again the plane was landing on their runway.

The EasyJet crew asked the controller why the United Airlines plane was coming down on 09R and warned of a possible collision.

At this time the aircraft was flying at an altitude of 300 ft, 1,300 m above the end of the runway. The EasyJet crew and controller both told the United Airlines crew to board once more, and the pilots aborted their landing.

By the time the planes crossed paths they were only 300 feet apart.

Reportedly, the controller did not have a straight line to runway 09 as the instruments coming in her direction appeared to be broken and she was working on a different screen.

The 09 runway side screen was fixed at the time of the incident and the controller was preparing to switch, which she was “concerned” about, according to the report.

She also told investigators that she was confused by a previous request from a different aircraft to land on runway 09R, which is longer than 09L, due to technical difficulties.

The BEA named several contributing factors to the incident, including the fact that the controller was out of practice due to low air traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investigators also stated that the United Airlines crew should have used the word “confirmed” rather than the nonstandard “understood”.

CNN has contacted Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for comment.

correct mistakes: A previous version of this story had the wrong date of the incident. This happened on July 20, 2020.


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