There has been a significant increase in runway incursions across busy airports in the United States. In the first four months of the year alone, the nation’s airports recorded nine near misses. The story continues well into the peak summer season, where several near misses have occurred. Interestingly, a good number of those incidents transpire between private jets and commercial airliners.

In February, a JetBlue Embraer 190 came in close proximity to a Lear 60 charter aircraft at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). The runway incursion took place when the Lear jet pilot failed to receive takeoff clearance. As a result, the approaching JetBlue aircraft came within 30 feet (9 m) above ground near the intersection of two runways when it aborted landing. According to the NTSB, the Boston tower told the Lear charter pilot the JetBlue flight passed about 400 feet above them.

On August 11, a Cessna Citation 560X came within 100 feet of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 at San Diego Airport (SAN) when the air traffic controller cleared the Cessna to land on runway 27, which was occupied by the Southwest aircraft. The airport’s surface detection equipment determined the mishap and issued an alert, avoiding casualties.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-200 taking off.
Photo: Markus Mainka | Shutterstock

Most recently, on August 17, a single-engine Cessna aircraft almost collided with a Delta Boeing 757 passenger moments after taking off from Orlando International Airport (MCO). Both aircraft took off from different runways but were given headings that put them on track for collision. The Cessna pilot’s quick and evasive reaction to the situation allowed both aircraft to avoid each other by about 500 ft (152 m).

While the FAA and the NTSB are investigating the above incidents, along with several others, the question arises as to why such incursions take place.

Possible causes for increased incursions

According to CNN correspondent Pete Muntean, who happens to be a pilot and flight instructor, airlines are under a lot of pressure to recover after the pandemic downturn. Many new pilots are flying right now, who may have matriculated from regional airlines to larger carriers.

On the air traffic control (ATC) side, things are similar. More experienced people were given voluntary leave during the pandemic downturn, and new people lack the experience needed to prevent such close calls. Although the flight crews and controllers have the required training for their respective roles, experience in the industry counts heavily in situations like these.

An aerial view of San Diego airport.
Photo: DBSOCAL/Shutterstock

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All of these runway incursions show that someone somewhere let their guard down to the point where an automated system (Traffic Collision Avoidance System or the airport surveillance system) kicks in to correct the mishaps. The FAA has assembled a team to further examine ways to enhance safety and reliability in the nation’s air traffic system. According to the Acting Administrator of the FAA, Billy Nolan,

"This team will strengthen our ongoing safety efforts and identify specific investments we can make to bolster the National Airspace System."

While it is noted that operating instructions around airports are the same for commercial and private aircraft, the authorities are gathering more evidence to find if instructional or communicational errors have played a part in these incidents.

What are your thoughts on increased runway incursions in recent months, particularly involving private aircraft? Tell us in the comments section.