A JetBlue flight from Nashville had a close call with a private jet that took off without clearance at Boston’s Logan International Airport on February 27, 2023. The incident, which was captured in a chilling photograph from the JetBlue flight’s cockpit, shows the LearJet aircraft obstructing the runway as the commercial plane came in to land. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a final report on Thursday, revealing the details of the near miss and the actions taken by the pilots and air traffic controllers.
Pilot Error and Miscommunication
According to the NTSB report, the pilot of the charter jet, operated by Hop-A-Jet, was instructed by the Boston tower controller to line up and wait on runway 15R, which intersects with runway 4L, where the JetBlue flight was cleared to land. However, the pilot of the charter jet read back the instructions clearly but began the takeoff roll instead, without authorization. The airport surface detection equipment alerted the controller, who issued go-around instructions to the JetBlue flight. A go-around is a flight procedure in which an arriving aircraft aborts its landing procedure and is resequenced for arrival.
The JetBlue flight initiated a go-around before reaching the intersection, and the closest proximity between both planes occurred when the JetBlue flight was about 30 feet off the ground and close to where both runways intersected. The JetBlue flight landed safely 14 minutes later, after circling around the airport. The charter jet continued its flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it was contacted by the Boston tower and informed of the incident.
The captain of the charter jet, Alvaro Donado, 63, told investigators that he heard the controller tell him to line up and wait before takeoff. He said that “he probably responded to the clearance, but in his mind, they were cleared for takeoff”. He also said that he was not feeling completely well and had a stuffed nose due to the cold temperature in Boston. The co-pilot of the charter jet, 23, said that he was following the captain’s instructions and thought they were cleared to take off.
Safety Concerns and Investigations
The incident raised concerns about the safety of air traffic operations at Logan International Airport, which is one of the busiest airports in the US. The airport has six runways, some of which intersect with each other, creating potential conflicts between arriving and departing aircraft. The FAA said it will determine the closest proximity between the two aircraft as part of its investigation. It will also review the communication procedures and protocols between pilots and controllers at the airport.
This is not the first time that a near collision has occurred at Logan International Airport. In 2011, a Delta Air Lines flight narrowly avoided hitting a regional jet that had crossed its path on a runway. In 2007, two planes came within 600 feet of each other on intersecting runways. The FAA has implemented several safety measures at the airport, such as runway status lights and enhanced taxiway markings, to prevent such incidents from happening again.
The NTSB said it will issue recommendations based on its findings from this incident. It also urged pilots and controllers to follow proper procedures and maintain situational awareness at all times. The agency said that “we are experiencing the safest period in aviation history, but we cannot take this for granted”.