Air Traffic Controller’s Slip Of Tongue Sets 2 Planes On Collision Course

A slip of the tongue by a traffic controller set a United Airlines plane with 73 people on board on a collision course with another plane at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris in July last year, according to a report released yesterday. The United Airlines Boeing 787 was landing and the EasyJet Airbus A320 was preparing to take off within 300 feet of each other when the error was noticed. That day, the planes were taking off from the 09R runway and landing on 09L, but the controller told the United Airlines plane to land on 09R, according to a report by a French aviation agency responsible for air safety, BEA.

The crew on the United Airlines plane from Newark, New Jersey, sought to confirm the change of runway with the ground control. However, the controller missed the readback and told the EasyJet plane, bound for Malaga, to line up for take-off from runway 09R on July 20, 2020, CNN reported.

Shortly after, the EasyJet crew noticed the United Airlines plane manoeuvring and coming in to land on their runway. The EasyJet crew immediately asked the controller why the United Airlines plane was coming down on 09R and warned of a potential collision. Thankfully, the plane was at an altitude of 300 feet, 1,300 metres from the end of the runway, giving pilots time to abort the landing and take another route.

According to a report in The Daily Mail, just before the United Airlines plane was supposed to land, an Air France Boeing 787 wanted to land on runway 09R due to a technical problem. The controller told investigators that this previous request added to her confusion. Her position, with no visual on the runways, could have contributed to the mistake.

When the pilot asked for confirmation but used the word “understand” instead of the standard “confirm” in an English expression, the French controller could not grasp it. She told investigators she thought her “tongue had slipped” because she was focused on runway 09R with an Air France Boeing 787 that had just landed there, according to the report.