Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON
There are seven runways at the nation’s third-busiest airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International. It takes experienced, sharp and focused controllers at both the control towers at DFW and in the nearby DFW TRACON (D10) to ensure that the delicately balanced choreography of air traffic proceeds smoothly and safely every hour of every day.
On Aug. 24, 2006, it was the sharp eyes and quick reaction of D10 controller Borden Byrd that saved a possible collision between two jets – an American Airlines MD80 and a United Express regional jet – that had departed simultaneously off parallel runways 17 Right and 18 Left.
The MD80 took off on 17R on an RNAV departure that would have directed the aircraft to depart south with an eastbound turn approximately five miles south of DFW. The RJ took off on 18L on an RNAV departure that would have directed the aircraft to depart south, with a westbound turn approximately five miles south of the airport.
The RNAV departure requires the departing aircraft to dial in the departure runway into their Flight Management System (FMS).
But on this day, the regional jet’s pilots had set an incorrect runway in the FMS. After the jet began its ascent, it turned to the southeast, directly into a path toward that of the MD80. Both jets were approximately 1,500 feet off the ground and going 200 miles per hour.
“There was a trajectory that was begun there that could have put two airplanes together,” said John Nance, a pilot and aviation expert who also serves on the Archie League Awards Selection Committee. “The fact was they left a piece of automation and put them in a bad position.”
But Byrd observed the situation developing and turned the regional jet immediately to the west, out of the path of the MD80.
At their closest proximity, the jets were separated by seven-tenths of a mile and 400 feet – which, as a Dallas television station described it, is less than the distance between home plate and the center field fence at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark, Ameriquest Field.
“In this particular case, a very sharp controller was watching very carefully,” Nance said.
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