A collision between two planes at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport on Tuesday has caused hours of airport shutdown and prompted questions about U.S. air traffic control and safety procedures, coming just a few days after a similar incident at Portland (PDX).
Clipped wings but no injuries
A private jet with three people on board took off without permission at 3:30 p.m. CT and hit a business class plane that was coming in to land with seven occupants. No one was injured in the crash – a seeming miracle given the circumstances.
The two aircraft “clipped wings as they were moving on the airfield” according to a Hobby airport social media post on X. The impact resulted in debris on the airfield, causing what is known as a “ground stop” – the cessation of all air traffic operations at the airport – while crews cleared the area. Flights resumed at 7 p.m.
The plane that caused the smash was a private twin-engine Raytheon Hawker 850HP (reg. N269AA), according to Aviation 24. It began take off without permission on runway 22 and coincided with a Cessna 510 Mustang (reg. N510HM). It is unclear if there will be consequences for those flying the Hawker.
Investigations are already underway by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which announced it has put a team of six investigators on the case. Aviation authorities in the U.S. will be acutely aware of recent near-misses in similar take-off and landing situations, such as the recent incident in Portland where a misinterpreted air traffic control instruction resulted in a pilot turning towards another plane on a parallel runway until “frantic” directions to take a different course saved the day.
The U.S. is experiencing huge shortages in qualified pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers, with around 32,000 posts to fill. Questions will now inevitably be asked about whether the shortfall and subsequent exhaustion among existing staff are having an effect on operations and safety.
Seven close calls, plus a collision between two United Airlines planes in the year to March alone – the highest rate of near-misses and incidents for five years – led the FAA and U.S. Senate to launch an aviation safety probe and a summit of industry leaders. All the incidents involved runway errors, such as planes being cleared for landing while the runway was already occupied, or planes “overflying” other craft, or crossing into their flightpath.