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Similar Runway Incidents Investigated

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Twice in eight days, the wings of passenger jets have clipped each other on runways at area airports, prompting investigations by federal authorities.

Federal officials and airline representatives declined to discuss the potential causes.

"These would appear to be isolated, unrelated incidents," said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating an incident Sunday at Dulles International Airport.

In that case, a Shuttle America regional jet, operating a United Express flight, appeared to hit a United Airlines Airbus preparing for a flight to Albuquerque, Dorr said, leading to minor damage. There were no injuries, officials said.

The first incident, Feb. 17 at Reagan National, caused more damage, officials said. The wing of a Republic Airlines jet, operating a US Airways Express flight, hit the wing of a US Airways plane preparing to travel to New York's LaGuardia Airport, a US Airways spokeswoman said. The run-in is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, officials said.

The Dulles incident was minor, Dorr said. "Basically what this was was a paint transfer," he said.

In both incidents, the regional planes were owned by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings.

Although the incidents are considered minor, they are representative of a class of accidents that has concerned federal officials.

"As the nation's aviation system becomes more crowded every day, increased congestion at airports may exacerbate ground safety concerns," said a report last year by the Government Accountability Office.

Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the transportation safety board, said investigators are looking into any common characteristics in the two incidents.

Regarding the collision at National, Holloway said, "We are examining the damage and looking at the issues, if there were any issues involving the crew."

Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for US Airways, referred inquiries to Republic Airways. "They were the ones that clipped us, not the other way around," Wunder said. "So you can call them. . . . "

A Republic spokesman did not return calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said that there were no serious injuries in the National incident but that a passenger complaining of back pain was taken to a hospital.

In the Dulles incident, Jeff Kovick, a spokesman for United, said small wing features on each of the planes, called winglets, hit each other. Winglets stick up from the end of the wings of some aircraft.

The United Airbus is expected to be repaired and returned to service as early as today, he said. The incident occurred in the area between a taxiway and a runway where planes wait to take off, Kovick said.

"We're going to review what happened, assist the investigation and determine if we need to make any changes from here," Kovick said. "Safety is our number one priority."

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