Two planes nearly collided this past Saturday at Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), and quick thinking by the pilot of one of the planes is being credited with likely saving many lives. The incident, which the NTSB and FAA are investigating, happened at AUS when a FedEx 767 cargo plane was approaching to land on Runway 18L, the shorter of the parallel runways at the airport, though it is 9,000 feet long. Air traffic control recordings indicate that the controller did clear the FedEx plane to land on 18L and also the Southwest jet, which had 127 people aboard to take off. The Southwest jet appeared to hesitate to begin its takeoff roll. According to our interpretation of the ATC recordings, it took 37 seconds between the time the Southwest jet was cleared for takeoff and when the controller asked the Southwest crew if they were on their takeoff roll yet, at which time they replied that they were just starting their takeoff roll. The reason for the apparent delay is not known.
The NTSB is investigating an incident involving a Southwest 737 and FedEx 767 that occurred today in Austin. Initial ADS-B data show the landing 767 overflying the departing 737. We are processing granular data now.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) February 5, 2023
As the FedEx jet continued on its landing approach, the Southwest 737 began its takeoff roll. The recording seems to indicate that the controller was unaware of the potential impending collision. It was the FedEx crew that alerted the 737, telling it to abort, but the 737 crew continued its takeoff roll and did indeed takeoff as the 767 aborted its approach and went around. According to an online aircraft traffic monitoring site, the planes came within 75 feet of each other. Normally, a controller will add the term “immediately” to a takeoff clearance when traffic is on final, but the controller in this case didn’t appear to do that.
The NTSB will be examining the near-collision and will release its preliminary findings at some point, likely within the next few days. No one was injured during the incident, which is the second in the last two weeks, after an American Airlines jet at JFK International Airport taxied onto a runway where a Delta jet was taking off. In that incident, the Delta pilot, having spotted the American Airlines Boeing 777 enter the runway, was able to abort and stop well short of the 777.