According to the FAA, Southwest Flight 737 was coming into Bob Hope Airport in Burbank just before 11 a.m. Monday. Onboard were 124 passengers and crewmembers. An air-traffic controller in the tower had cleared the airliner to land on Runway 8, but also cleared on an intersecting runway was a small single-engine Cessna that was practicing how to land.
"The air-traffic controller handling the plane misjudged the spacing of the two aircraft," said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. "He instructed the Cessna to turn at a point that had two aircraft arriving at the runway intersection at roughly the same time."
The jetliner touched down on its landing while the Cessna was heading right at it in the cross runway, and is forced to pull up. It crosses the airliner 200 feet above the plane and just 10 feet behind it.
"Two-hundred feet in this case is probably two to three seconds," said Michael Barr, USC School of Aviation Safety. "You hit it in the right place, the core of the wing or right into where the passengers were sitting, we could've had an absolute catastrophe."
Runway intersections are the most dangerous spots in the airport, forcing air traffic controllers to deal with two planes moving in different speeds at the same place.
"That controller has to look at both airplanes and kind of project where they're going to be at that speed and if you don't do it correctly, then you may think there's going to be clearance and they get down to that one point, there isn't clearance," said Barr.
The FAA says the Burbank close call is the sole fault of the air-traffic controller, that he should've recognized the potential conflict. The FAA also says that controller who has been certified at Burbank for about two years has a stellar history in the tower.
"This is an excellent, experienced controller who just made a very unusual and unfortunate mistake," said Gregor.
The air-traffic controller is not expected to be disciplined. The FAA says this situation is a matter of education and not punishment.