Dallas-Fort Worth Terminal Radar Approach Control
An aircraft lined up to land on the wrong runway at a busy airport like Dallas-Fort Worth International is a fairly rare event, especially in poor weather conditions, when jets are using their Instrument Landing System for precise approaches. But when it occurs, it takes the expert skill, focus and dedication of Terminal Radar Approach Controllers to catch it and then correct it.
On the evening of June 22, Controller Bill Buvens’ exceptional focus was put to the test. Evening had fallen on DFW and the weather was turning worse, with low clouds and poor visibility. The team of controllers at DFW TRACON were putting arriving aircraft on triple simultaneous, ILS approach paths, using Runways 17 Left, 17 Center and 18 Right for landing.
Buvens was working the Final Monitor 2 position, responsible for the final approach into Runway 17C, which sits between Runways 17L and 18R. American Airlines Flight 599 was cleared for an ILS approach to 17C and switched to the DFW Tower radio frequency, as required. Tower controllers cleared the jet to land on 17C.
Buvens, monitoring the tower frequency, heard a controller working the Local East position taxi a jet into position and hold on Runway 17R, which was being used for departures. Then, Buvens, monitoring the approach, noticed that American 599, a Boeing 757 was a little right of the 17C centerline, but still within the confines of the approach. But as the aircraft got closer, it appeared he was actually lined up on Runway 17R. With the aircraft just two miles from the threshold and a jet holding on 17R, Buvens immediately called up to the DFW tower, reaching the Local East controller, and reported that American 599 was lined up on 17R.
The Local East controller asked American 599 to verify he was lined up on 17C, to which the pilot replied, “Uh, no .. but we’ll side step over to 17C. We have the airport in sight.” This was when the plane was less than one mile from the runway, or about 15 seconds from possibly landing on top of the plane holding in position on 17R.
The Local East controller then called Buvens to say, “Nice job.” A fellow controller at DFW TRACON told a supervisor about what had happened and Buvens was recommended for a time-off award. In justifying the award, local Federal Aviation Administration officials wrote, “Mr. Buvens is commended for his attention to duty, and going above and beyond the normal scope of the Final Monitor position, preventing what could have been a catastrophic event.”
DFW TRACON NATCA Facility Representative Mike Conely said Buvens’ ability to spot the American jet on radar lined up for Runway 17R was remarkable. “It was a very difficult situation,” Conely commented. “Because of the way the radar display is, when you look at the display, you have to realize the target itself is lined up on the wrong depicted course. To see it, you have to be paying close attention. It’s a case of being very observant on the job. Bill put them in a situation where they didn’t have a possible critical situation occur.”
"Veteran Controller Bill Buvens truly deserves the special recognition he is receiving tonight for his actions in averting what could have become a national catastrophe. When a departing flight lines up on the wrong runway, it is quite literally a disaster waiting to happen. Bill’s alertness, attention to detail, and years of experience helped him identify and avoid this pending tragedy. In light of the fact Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON weathered an unjust spotlight this past year by persons who are simply unfamiliar with the prerequisite professionalism necessary in our occupation, Bill’s heroism shines as an example of the unique expertise and skill controllers use every day to maintain the safety of our national airspace system. I'd like to congratulate Bill for winning the Southwest Region award and wouldn't be surprised if he is once again a contender for this honor in the future."
- Darrell Meachum, Southwest Regional Vice President
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