Two planes aborted landing at San Francisco International Airport last week after pilots spotted a Southwest Airlines jet taxiing down runways that allowed the other planes to land.
An air traffic controller told the Southwest pilots that they should not have been on the runways during the May 19 incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday the Southwest plane cleared the runways as the other planes flew directly overhead, and that the decision to abort the landing was a “precautionary measure.”
“The FAA has investigated the events and determined that appropriate steps were taken to ensure safe operations,” the agency said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it is not investigating the matter.
The incident comes after half a dozen close calls in recent months that are being investigated by security officials. Those include one in February in which a FedEx plane flew about 100 feet over the top of a Southwest jet in Austin, Texas, after an air traffic controller cleared both planes to use the same runway.
In the incident this month, an inbound United Airlines jet flew as low as a few hundred feet (100 meters) over San Francisco Bay before pilots spotted the Southwest jet on the same runway and decided to abandon their landing.
Shortly thereafter, the crew of an arriving Alaska Airlines plane saw the same Southwest jet cross a second, parallel runway, and the pilots also aborted their landing.
Both the United and Alaska planes circled and landed safely.
The air traffic controller told the crew of the Southwest jet, “You can’t be on the runway,” according to a recording captured by LiveATC.com. When one of the pilots tried to explain, the controller cut him off and said, “I don’t need a fight.”
The incident was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco airport was the scene of a terrifying near-disaster in 2017, when pilots of an Air Canada jet mistook a taxiway for their runway and almost landed on top of four other planes waiting to take off.
Despite recent close calls, the acting chief of the FAA has said the country’s air traffic system is safe, pointing to the absence of a fatal crash involving a US airline since 2009.
However, concerns about the close calls prompted the FAA to hold a “safety freeze” in March. The agency said this week it is investing $100 million in improvements at 12 airports — but not San Francisco — to reduce “runway incursions,” when an airplane or airport vehicle is on a runway when it shouldn’t.