Plane got too close to two jets

Times Staff Writer

Authorities are investigating an incident in which a charter aircraft from Hawthorne Municipal Airport made a wrong turn and violated safety requirements by flying near two jetliners preparing to land at nearby LAX.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the incident occurred June 13, when a twin-engine turboprop turned right after takeoff from Hawthorne and strayed too close to a Skywest Airlines regional jet and a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 that were on final approach about 9:15 a.m.

Aircraft departing to the west from Hawthorne are normally instructed to turn left to avoid the busy airspace around Los Angeles International Airport. The municipal airport is about two miles southeast of LAX.

“There was a severe loss of separation,” said Mike Fergus, an FAA spokesman. “The required safety buffer between aircraft was violated.”


The incident has attracted the attention of air traffic controllers at LAX, who contend that only luck prevented a devastating midair collision.

Both the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. and Serco North America, an aviation services company that contracts with Hawthorne to provide controllers, are looking into the matter.

“It was just a roll of the dice,” said Mike Foote, a local representative of the controllers association. “The aircraft were flying through the haze and clouds. Miraculously, the charter plane did not hit anyone.”

Fergus said errors were made by a controller in the Hawthorne tower and the pilot of the charter aircraft, a Piaggio Aviant that ferries passenger to and from Las Vegas.

According to the FAA, the controller instructed the pilot over the radio to make a left turn after takeoff. The pilot, however, read back the instruction as a right turn -- a mistake that was not corrected by the controller, Fergus said.

Pilots are required to maintain either three miles of lateral separation or 1,000 feet of vertical separation from aircraft on final approach for landing.

But after making the right turn, the Aviant ended up 1.7 miles from the Skywest flight, which was traveling at the same altitude, the FAA reported. The turboprop, flying at an altitude 400 feet higher than the Northwest flight, then passed the aircraft at a distance of 1.62 miles, Fergus said.

Foote said the controllers association would review the radar records to determine whether the charter plane came closer to the airliners than reported.


The Aviant “was climbing and turning right through their flight paths,” Foote said. “That’s about as ugly as it gets. The aircraft didn’t need to be where it was.”

Steve McCarney, a spokesman for Serco, said the incident is under investigation. He requested that further inquiries be made to the FAA.

The company is required to prepare a report about the incident for the FAA, Fergus said. He added that Serco appears to be responding appropriately.

Fergus noted that none of the pilots of the three aircraft reported the loss of separation to the FAA. But that does not mean the incident is not serious, he said.