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Takeoff at Logan aborted by errors

Runway incursion is 2d in just over a week

An American Airlines jet aborted its takeoff at Logan International Airport Tuesday, after errors by a pilot and a controller allowed another plane to cross onto its runway, federal officials said yesterday.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, Jim Peters, could not say how close the planes had come to colliding, but said the American Airlines flight was rolling at the time its takeoff clearance was canceled. An aviation source familiar with the investigation said the planes came within 1,000 feet.

Peters said he did not know how many passengers and crew members each plane was carrying.

The incident was the second runway incursion in just over a week. On Sept. 27, a FedEx cargo jet that had just started its takeoff came within 2,000 feet of a twin-propeller plane crossing the same runway.

The two incidents bring to 16 the number of runway incursions since October 2004 at Logan, a number that has alarmed airport and federal officials.

The problem has become so serious that Craig P. Coy -- chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan -- recently asked federal officials to sanction controllers or revoke or suspend licenses of pilots in the runway incursions.

Coy said yesterday that he contacted the head of the FAA, Marion Blakey, who committed to send specialists to examine the situation.

''Controllers could need more training, they could lack experience, or it could be that they or the pilots just need more focus on the job," said Coy, who is himself a pilot. ''Whatever the situation is, we want something to change up here to stop these incursions."

During a press conference in August, Logan and aviation officials pledged to curb runway incursions with a series of safety initiatives. FAA officials, who share responsibility with Massport for runway safety at Logan, could not say yesterday whether any of these were in place at the time of the two most recent incidents.

On Tuesday, an American Eagle regional jet landed on Runway 4R and was instructed by the control tower to cross another runway and hold short of Runway 15R, which was being used, Peters said. The American Eagle pilot read back only half of the instructions, to cross Runway 4R, Peters said. The pilot then switched his radio frequency from a controller handling incoming flights to another controller dealing with aircraft taxiing to gates, Peters said.

The pilot then contacted the ground controller, who gave instructions to cross over Runway 15R. The ground controller incorrectly said traffic had been stopped on that runway, Peters said. At the pilot's request, the ground controller repeated the instructions, Peters said.

At the same time, another controller handling outgoing flights cleared the American Airlines passenger jet to take off on Runway 15R. But after seeing the American Eagle plane moving on to the runway and after not reaching that flight's pilot on the radio, that controller immediately canceled the clearance.

FAA officials confirmed yesterday that the incursion is being investigated as both an error by the ground controller and as an error by the American Eagle pilot. Pilots are not supposed to switch radio frequencies from one air traffic controller to another without permission from the control tower.

Logan, the nation's 17th busiest airport, with 1,250 daily arrivals and departures, has gone from no officially reported runway incursions between September 2003 and October 2004 to 16 in the past year. That jump, local and federal aviation officials said, is a dangerous trend that must be reversed to prevent a catastrophic collision.

So far, officials have found no link among the incidents, though they have cited Logan's five intersecting runways and the short distance from runways to gates, compared with the distance at other airports, as possible factors.

In August, FAA and Massport officials pledged to reduce the number of planes on taxiways at any one time, to distribute more information to pilots about Logan's runway hot spots, and to add a warning to the pilots' dedicated radio frequency about stopping at the most active runways.

While most of the runway incidents at Logan were categorized as unlikely to have resulted in a collision, officials said that one on June 9 was one of the most serious close calls in the nation recently.

In that incident, an Aer Lingus Airbus A330 and a US Airways Boeing 737, carrying a combined 381 passengers and crew members, came within 170 feet and a few seconds of colliding as they rumbled toward takeoff at more than 160 miles per hour.

FAA officials attributed the close call to errors by two air traffic controllers who were handling takeoffs. Both were suspended and sent for retraining.

Federal officials later confirmed that an airfield warning system had not activated because of a software error that prevents the system from detecting planes approaching each other on intersecting runways.

Matthew Brelis of the Globe staff contributed to this report.Mac Daniel can be reached at mdaniel@globe.com.

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