Air traffic controllers address landing incident

In a 400-word statement on Saturday, Cayman’s air traffic controllers addressed an incident last week at Owen Roberts International Airport in which two aircraft came within a minute of colliding.

The controllers’ association acknowledged that approaching Cayman Airways flight 505 from Chicago had turned into its final approach to the airport “sooner than expected.”

“The resulting action was a go-around being issued to Cayman Airways, as the departing aircraft was still occupying the runway and the departing aircraft was told to abort their take-off …” the unsigned statement said. The remarks were posted on the controllers’ association Facebook page.

The incident occurred at 4:45 p.m. March 22, when Houston-bound United Airlines flight 1495 waited for take-off clearance at the top of the Owen Roberts runway.

KX505, arriving ahead of schedule, was on its final glide path to the runway, passing over the Cayman Islands Hospital. It was forced to pull up at the last minute as it crossed the Huldah Avenue cricket pitch, avoiding collision, and circled over Bodden Town to make a second landing attempt.

“Aircraft are separated within the Cayman Islands airspace using procedural control techniques, as opposed to radar,” the air traffic controllers’ statement said. “This form of separation is heavily dependent upon accurate position reports from pilots.

“The report received by the inbound-flight crew indicated that the spacing was considerably more than adequate for an aircraft to enter the runway and depart safely without imposing a delay upon the arriving aircraft, and the controller granted permission for the departing aircraft to enter the runway for departure.

“The controller provided both flight crews with traffic information, instructing the arriving aircraft to reduce [its] speed to accommodate a departure, and the departing aircraft to expedite [its] back taxi to ensure no delays for the arriving traffic.

“Despite positive control by the controller, conflicting position reports resulted in the arriving aircraft turning [into its] final approach sooner than expected. The resulting action was a go-around being issued to Cayman Airways as the departing aircraft was still occupying the runway and the departing aircraft was told to abort their take-off to ensure no loss of separation between both aircraft.”

As KX505 passed overhead, the UA plane moved back down the runway to the parking apron, turning to wait on the taxiway. At 4:53 p.m., the CAL aircraft landed without incident, followed by a routine UA departure at 4:55 p.m.

“Both flight crews responded promptly and professionally, carrying out instructions issued by ATC,” the controllers said.

In the wake of the incident, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority – responsible for operations at the territory’s three airfields – issued a brief statement, calling the event “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.”

The Civil Aviation Authority later confirmed receipt of the report: “The CAA did review the occurrence and is satisfied that the CIAA statement adequately addresses the issue,” said Nicoela McCoy, Civil Aviation Authority deputy director-general. “[T]he CAA endorses the statement that was issued.”

Neither organization explained the cause of the incident.

The ATC, which had earlier refused comment, said the investigation was ongoing, and that public safety had never been compromised.

“The Chicago flight landed without further incident, and the United aircraft departed safely,” the controllers said. “It is our understanding that an investigation is under way, one that will more than likely involve analysis of air traffic control audio recordings in addition to flight deck recordings from the aircraft involved.

“The purpose of these investigations is not to issue blame, but rather to determine whether incidents such as this can be avoided in the future and to improve safety within the aviation industry.

“Once the investigation is complete,” the statement finished, “hopefully we will understand the cause of the incident. [U]ntil then it is important to note that all individuals concerned are professionals, all actions are to be held accountable for, and safety is of the utmost importance to all parties concerned.”

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  1. I”d suggest that if the flight crew of the CAL flight from Chicago was unable to see that there was still an aircraft on the runway as they approached to land, then they need to have their eyes checked. Would they simply have landed on top of the departing aircraft if they had not been instructed to abort? And, at what point are they able to make a decision to abort/go-around, on their own without waiting on ATC to advise then to do so? The CAL aircraft should never have got to close to landing as it should have been clear to the pilots from long before it was in the vicinity of the hospital that there was still an aircraft on the runway.

  2. More sensationalism over a non-event. The article reads as though a collision was impending and all passengers are lucky to be alive. This doesn”t appear to be the case at all but the Compass has to justify its over the top reporting so far and save face, when had they just done a little more investigating to begin with they could have found out the facts, ran a small report of the incident and moved on. Now for the last 3 days all anyone is going to see when reading our local news source is that flying into Cayman is a potentially life threatening venture.

    It”s one thing for journalism to bring light to matters that affect the public and to act as an agent for change, but it should be done with due care and investigation otherwise you”re just a tabloid. In this case what exactly is the Compass trying to shine light on? Some deep seeded incompetence or corruption by the CIAA or local Air Traffic Controllers that this incident proves exists and so reforms are necessary? I don”t think even they know the answer to that, but it doesn”t seem like this incident proves anything other than maybe Cayman needs to get some radar. That however is a whole different story and issue that no one has even brought up.

  3. Hardly a non event, rather a potentially serious safety incident that is self evident, if the authorities deem it necessary to analyse the voice recordings of all those involved. Maybe Mr Walser should have been on the incoming flight when the engines were suddenly gunned up to full throttle at the last minute before touchdown, an alarming experience that I had last year during bad weather at MIA.

  4. I see that the Compass is doing a big favor by bringing these issues to the public attention, because if these issues are left alone it only gets worse. Speaking of Radar, is it a fact that the air traffic controls don”t have a radar ? Then I would say God has blessed us all these years. This would be a big issue for the Compass to report on, for the safety of ourselves and visitors. It makes no sense to make the inside of our house safe, and the entrance unsafe.

  5. Interesting comment alleging that the CAL flight had short-cut the approach. Considering it had just come 1600-odd miles from ORD I can think of one reason for doing that – fuel issues. Anyone from any of the parties involved care to comment on that?

    As for Roger Davies comments. If you regard a routine go-around as an alarming experience I would respectfully suggest that you might simply be a nervous flyer.