- An air traffic controller directed a United flight dangerously close to an American plane in July.
- The American pilot yanked the plane up to avoid a possible collision, The New York Times reported.
- The Times said it was just one of several recent collision close-calls involving major US airlines.
An American Airlines pilot had to yank his plane upward 700 feet to avoid colliding with a United flight in July, according to an investigation published Monday by The New York Times.
The Times found collision close-calls were happening several times a week in the US — far more than was publicly known. The report raised concerns about the American airline industry, which has a reputation for being safe. One air traffic controller told the outlet, “It is only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.”
Graphics included in the report demonstrated just how close some of these incidents have been.
For the incident involving the American and United flights, the Times reported an air traffic controller had directed the United flight to go “dangerously close” to the American plane by mistake. A collision warning alarm went off in the cockpit of the American plane, an Airbus A321.
The accompanying graphic showed each plane was on a straight trajectory to potentially collide when the American flight rose higher into the air. The American plane then flew above the potential point of contact, with the United flight passing below shortly after.
It was one of several collision close-call incidents that the Times said occurred this summer that involved major US airlines, several of which told the outlet they are committed to safety and touted the lack of crashes in the industry.
When reached by Insider, United acknowledged the incident, saying the planes were “more than three miles apart when this situation was resolved.” The Times said the American flight was traveling 500 mph — or about 8.3 miles per minute — when the incident occurred.
United also noted the Federal Aviation Administration defines a “near midair collision” as when aircraft come within 500 feet of each other, or when “a report is received from a pilot or a flight crewmember stating that a collision hazard existed between two or more aircraft.”
American did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The Times investigation said human error is often the cause of collision close-calls, citing mistakes made by air traffic controllers as one issue.
The US air travel industry has been facing a nationwide shortage of air traffic controllers, with a government report released in June finding 77% of critical air traffic control facilities were understaffed, Insider’s Hannah Towey previously reported.