How often do planes come close to colliding?

FILE – An air traffic control tower is seen at JFK airport on January 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — After two planes narrowly avoided colliding at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday, attention has focused on the near-misses that can happen when planes are still on the ground.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 preparing for takeoff stopped just 1,000 feet from an American Airlines flight. It’s what the Federal Aviation Administration calls a runway incursion and it’s more common than many might think.

The FAA defines a runway incursion as “any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft.”

In 2022, the FAA reported 1,732 runway incursions, up from 1,574 in 2021. The majority of runway incursions happen at smaller airports and most are attributed to pilot error.

The FAA groups runway incursions into four categories, plus accidents — incidents where planes actually collide with each other or other objects on the ground. Incursions can range from the most minor, which involve a single person, vehicle or airplane on a protected surface meant for takeoff or landing with no immediate safety consequences, to the most severe, which the FAA defines as “a serious incident in which a collision was narrowly avoided.”

Accidents are rare. The most recent fatal accident caused by a plane being on the wrong runway was the Comair 5191 crash in 2006 in Kentucky, where a plane mistakenly lined up for takeoff at a shorter runway than required. The plane hit a wall and a fence before catching fire. All but one of the 50 people on board were killed.

An FAA report issued after the Comair crash recommended changes including additional training for flight crews and changes to runway configurations and markings to help reduce wrong runway and runway incursion incidents.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are still investigating the DeltaAmerican incident to determine what happened.

The FAA’s runway safety initiatives include training for pilots, standardized markings and providing additional information to flight crews, including pictures of runway configurations from the air to help ensure they are lining up on the correct path.


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