Trainee Controller Turns A320s Toward Each Other (Corrected)

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A couple of United Airlines A320s departing Houston's George Bush Airport came close enough together on May 9 that a controller in another facility called the mishap "gnarly." The FAA is classifying the incident as a "near miss" (it only uses "near collision" if the aircraft come within 500 feet of one another). Whatever the description, the aircraft, one headed to Mexico City and one to Vancouver, B.C., came within about 4,500 feet laterally and 460 feet vertically when a trainee tower controller told the crew of one of the airliners to turn right instead of left on departure. The pilot of one of the aircraft asked a departure controller what happened and was told: "Yea, basically crossed directly over the top of each other. That's what it looked like from my perspective. I have no idea what was going on there in the tower. It was pretty gnarly looking."

To his credit, the controller caught his mistake immediately and told the aircraft with the incorrect instructions to "stop your turn, stop your climb, stop your turn" seconds later.  The FAA noted "the controller issued instructions to both pilots to safely separate the aircraft," but it's unlikely the controller's bad day ended with that save. CNN reported the FAA as saying "steps are being taken" to prevent a recurrence but didn't say what they might be.  As for the pilots, the incident resulted in some on-air banter but it's unlikely the passengers noticed anything.

Our earlier report incorrectly attributed the "gnarly" comment to a pilot who witnessed the mishap and incorrectly identified the aircraft involved as Boeing 737s.