FAA says changes cut risk of O’Hare collisions

CHICAGO (AP) — New air traffic control procedures have been put in place at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to try to eliminate the risk of midair collisions over a pair of runways, after two near misses last year raised serious concerns, federal officials said Wednesday.

The planes involved in the incidents, which occurred three months apart in 2011, came within a few hundred feet of each other, according to a preliminary report released this week by the National Transportation Safety Board. No one was hurt, but the crew of one of the planes had to delay their takeoff and stay low to avoid a collision even though they were rapidly approaching the end of the runway.

Revised procedures put in place since last year include the extension of a warning system to automatically alert controllers if a plane is approaching to land on one of the runways as an aircraft is taking off on the other, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday. The runways fall short of physically intersecting, but are close enough that air traffic can cross paths in takeoffs and landings.

The two air traffic controllers responsible for the runways also are now seated beside each other so they can better communicate. And a work station for supervisors that was located in the center of the control tower has been removed after controllers complained it obstructed their view and forced them to yell vital information across the room.

In a statement, the FAA said safety was the agency’s top priority and it “moved swiftly to develop measures that would eliminate similar occurrences.” There have been no similar incidents since then, it said.

The first of the near misses, on May 16, 2011, involved a SkyWest Airlines plane en route from Michigan approaching one runway and an ExpressJet Airlines jet taking off on the other runway for Buffalo, N.Y.

The other near miss took place Aug. 8, 2011. A Chautauqua Airlines flight from La Crosse, Wis., was landing and nearly struck a Trans State Airlines flight taking off for Moline, in western Illinois.

Work under way to modernize O’Hare eventually will eliminate the problem by reconfiguring crisscrossing runways into a more efficient parallel layout.

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