There was a very near miss at LAX on Thursday, an airport particularly prone to near misses. A taxiing WestJet Boeing 737 almost hit a Northwest Airbus 320 that was taking off.
There have been seven other such "runway incursions" this year at the Los Angeles airport, but this one was closer than most. The two aircraft may have come as close as 50 feet – and when one of them is moving at 150 mph, that’s a problem.
The FAA said it appeared that a mistake by the WestJet pilot was compounded by a mistake by a ground controller. But that’s not the whole story.
Part of the problem at LAX is an outdated runway layout. Taxiing aircraft must cross the runways where other jets are taking off and landing, and the runways are so close together that there’s not much room for mistakes. Plus, there are more jets taking off and landing than ever before.
A parallel runway is being installed at the airport’s south field to reduce the risks. A similar project is proposed for the north field, where this latest incident occurred, but it has been stalled by opposition from people who live nearby.
That’s understandable, but it’s not an answer.
A Safety Risk Assessment report released in June put it this way:
While the likelihood of a credible event that may occur with a catastrophic outcome remains low, increasing airport activities and aircraft fleet complexities increase the likelihood of a catastrophic aircraft collision.
So our options are pretty clear: improve our airports (and not just LAX), reduce our "complexity" (perhaps by reducing the number of small commuter jets clogging the system) or accept the increased likelihood of another "catastrophic aircraft collision."