NTSB Cites ATC Error In Near Mid-Air Collision Over Gulfport Airport


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NTSB Cites ATC Error In Near Mid-Air Collision Over Gulfport Airport

By Jim Douglas

January 22, 2012 - The NTSB cited an operational error by a tower air traffic controller as the probable cause of a near mid-air collision involving a commercial jetliner and a small private plane over the Gulfport-Biloxi airport. 

On Sunday, June 19, 2011, at 12:35 p.m. CDT at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, a Cessna 172, N54120 was cleared for takeoff on runway 18 by the tower air traffic controller.

Sixteen seconds later, the same air traffic controller cleared an (Jet Link) BTA2555, Embraer 145, N13929, a commercial passenger flight, for takeoff on runway 14, the flight path of which intersects the flight path of runway 18.

While both airplanes were about 300 feet above the airfield, the Embraer passed in front of the Cessna. The closest proximity between the two planes was estimated to be 0 feet vertically and 300 feet laterally. The Embraer 145, operated as ExpressJet flight 2555 (dba Continental/United Express) was carrying 50 passengers and 3 crewmembers, and was bound for Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) where it landed uneventfully. No one in either airplane was injured in the incident. 

The Gulfport air traffic control (ATC) facility was a combined terminal radar approach control (TRACON) and air traffic control tower (ATCT). The TRACON was located in the ATC facility below the control tower cab. The approach control function was transferred to the tower when conditions warranted. Facility staffing included a support specialist, two front line managers (FLM), 13 certified professional controllers (CPC), and 10 developmental controllers with two additional developmental controllers due to arrive within several weeks of this incident. 

Due to the large number of developmental controllers at GPT, facility policy directed that all developmental controllers receive a minimum of two hours of on-the-job (OJT) training each day. Additionally, facility policy mandated that the TRACON be opened daily from 10:00 to 17:00 and to make an entry in the facility log, FAA form 7230-4, if the TRACON was not opened to explain the reason for non-compliance with the facility directive.

On the day of the incident the facility policy was not complied with by the controller-in-charge (CIC)/LC in that the TRACON was not opened. According to the CIC/LC, opening the TRACON would have required staffing not readily available resulting in the inability to comply with the mandatory two hour training per developmental facility policy. There were not enough qualified controllers to comply with both facility directives. This fact was not logged in the facility log and no explanation to the reason it was not logged was provided.


At the time of the incident, the tower was staffed by two people; an approach controller performing radar functions in the tower and a local controller (LC). The LC involved in the incident was working ground control, flight data/clearance delivery, and controller-in-charge (CIC) positions concurrently. An on the job training instructor (OJTI) CPC and a developmental controller had just arrived in the tower to take over the LC position for LC OJT and were standing in the back of the tower cab. 

History of Flight - The Cessna called GPT ground control at 12:35 for a VFR clearance to the local operating area at 2500 feet. The ground controller issued a discreet mode 3/A code of 0240, a departure control frequency of 127.5 and instructions to remain at or below 2000 feet. 

The Cessna acknowledged the clearance and called for taxi at 12:37. The ground controller directed the Cessna to taxi to runway 18 via taxiway A. The Cessna acknowledged. The Cessna taxied from the general aviation ramp via taxiway A to the intersection of runway 18/36 and taxiway A. The Cessna was not required to cross any runways en route to the approach end of runway 18. 

At 1239, Jetlink (BTA) 2555, an ERJ145 advised ground control that they were pushing off of terminal gate 3 and called for taxi at 1241. Ground control directed the ERJ145 to taxi to runway 14 via taxiway C. The ERJ145 taxied from the passenger terminal located to the west of runway 18/36 and east of runway 14/32 and was not required to cross any runways en route to the approach end of runway 14. 

At 12:42:58 the Cessna called the tower and reported that they were holding short of runway 18 ready for takeoff. At 12:43:11 the LC directed the Cessna to fly runway heading and issued a takeoff clearance. The Cessna acknowledged.  

At 12:43:21 the ERJ145 called the tower ready for takeoff. At 12:43:27 the LC directed the ERJ145 to fly runway heading and issued a takeoff clearance. Traffic information regarding the converging flight path departure courses was not issued to either aircraft.  

At this time the OJTI CPC and developmental controller we just arriving in the tower cab and heard the simultaneous takeoff clearances issued by the LC. The OJTI CPC stated to the LC that ?you?ve got two rolling?. The LC did not acknowledge. The developmental controller recalled seeing the ERJ145 pass in front of the Cessna. Radar data indicates that the ERJ145 passed in front of the Cessna at the same altitude separated by approximately 300 feet laterally.
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