Officials downplay airport incident

Aviation officials are investigating an incident at the Owen Roberts International Airport on Sunday in which two aircraft, one awaiting departure and the other incoming, were forced to abort their flight plans.

At 4:45 p.m., Houston-bound United Airlines flight 1495 waited at the top of the runway for clearance to take off as Cayman Airways flight KX505 from Chicago, arriving early, descended over the Cayman Islands Hospital in the final stages of its landing approach.

At the last minute, the KX505 pulled up, moving away over Bodden Town, circling for a second approach. Immediately, the UA flight returned to the aircraft apron, turning 180 degrees, waiting on the taxiway for the incoming CAL aircraft.

At 4:53 p.m., KX505 again approached the runway, landing without incident. The UA flight, cleared to resume its activities, returned to the runway, departing at 4:55 p.m.

Under international aviation rules, the incident will be formally investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Islands Airports Authority, responsible for operations at Cayman’s three airfields, in a statement on Wednesday called the incident “an occurrence.”

“[The] CIAA has completed its investigation into an occurrence at Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA) on Sunday, 22 March, involving two airlines,” the statement said.

“One of the airlines’ flight departure was briefly delayed and the other had to go around before being cleared for landing. As part of the formal investigation, a report was submitted by CIAA to the Civil Aviation Authority as is the norm for any such occurrence. This is not a frequent occurrence and at no time was safety compromised.”

However, Cayman Islands Airports Authority spokeswoman Kafara Augustine acknowledged that the authority did not know what had caused the incident, suggesting it had been “blown out of proportion.”

“We have filled out the details and given them to the CAA,” she said. “I believe an investigation will follow.”

She was unable to say when the probe might be complete, but speculated it could come “in the next couple of days.”

The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed it had received the preliminary report. On Thursday, the authority issued a statement endorsing Airports Authority remarks: “We have discussed this internally,” said Nicoela McCoy, Civil Aviation Authority deputy director-general. “The Cayman Islands Airports Authority has issued an official statement on this matter and the CAA endorses the statement that was issued.

“The CAA did review the occurrence and is satisfied that the CIAA statement adequately addresses the issue.”

Neither organization has explained the incident. Local air traffic controllers on Wednesday declined to comment, referring questions to Ms. Augustine. Cayman Airways did not respond to questions.

United Airlines spokeswoman Karen May declined to say how many passengers were aboard flight 1495, saying the company was unable to confirm any incident at the airport on Sunday afternoon.

“We called our network operations center and we’re showing that there wasn’t an issue with a flight we had going out close to 5 o’clock on Sunday,” Ms. May said. “We are showing that everything was normal, so I can’t give you any details.”

International aviation regulations mandate that investigators probe any incident similar to Sunday’s. Air traffic controllers must surrender tapes from the episode, clarifying instructions and conversations between the control tower and air crews. The panel may also seek cockpit voice recorders to resolve any discrepancies.

Should the probe warrant closer greater attention, local authorities may tap the U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which will deploy a three-member team specializing in operations, engineering and flight data recording.

The bureau says “all serious incidents must be reported to the AAIB in the same way as accidents. If any doubt exists, operators should report the incident. The AAIB will quickly determine if the incident is reportable or not.”

The bureau’s Guidance for Airline Operators offers an example of a “serious incident:” “A TBM850 landed on a runway already occupied by a DHC-8Q400. There was no damage and no injuries. Safety margins were seriously compromised; this was a reportable serious incident.”

The guidelines require that the “commander of the aircraft … or the operator of the aircraft should notify the AAIB by the quickest means of communications available.”

Both the Civil Aviation Authority and Cayman Islands Airports Authority declined further comment. Ms. Augustine said the Aviation Authority had “thoroughly investigated” the incident. “They are satisfied that all parties acted with the highest professionalism and safety was not compromised.

“We won’t be commenting any further,” she said.

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