A supervisor was plugged into tower operations at O’Hare on Monday and instructed the controller handling the SkyWest plane to abort the landing.
“It was the supervisor who saw this,” said an FAA official who was familiar with the incident but not authorized to speak for the agency, “and had he not said something, they very likely would have collided.”
The FAA said the incident was not recorded as an operational error.
Errors by controllers rose 53 percent last year. The vast majority of the 1,887 errors were mistakes in which planes came closer to each other than allowed but posed no serious risk of collision. In about dozen occasions, however, collisions were narrowly averted.
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation questioned the level of controller training last week in testimony before Congress.
“As of March 2011, 25 percent of FAA’s controller workforce was in training — compared to 15 percent in 2004 — meaning fewer certified controllers in the workforce to control air traffic and provide on-the-job training for new controllers,” Calvin L. Scovel told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. “FAA has had to assign newly hired controllers to complex air traffic control locations, such as Southern California, Atlanta, Chicago and New York. Normally, new hires would start their on-the-job training at less-complex facilities and eventually transfer to a higher-level facility.”
Congress recently asked the inspector general to review the increase in reported errors by air traffic controllers. That review began last week.
On Wednesday, Air Force One aborted a landing at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut as the president headed to graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. The pilot of Air Force One made the decision to “go around” for a second approach because a storm line was moving through the area.
Controllers and pilots routinely initiate go-arounds as a precaution when there is bad weather or heavy flight traffic.