A cockpit alarm prevented a collision between a small aircraft and an Airbus 319 jetliner in the skies above John Wayne Airport (JWA) this past September.
Later, on the FAA's Aviation Safety Reporting System log, the Airbus 319 pilot predicted that the mix of large jets and light aircraft at JWA "will end badly someday. . . . There is no way we should have been allowed to get this close."
The alarming discovery was made by Teri Sforza over at The Orange County Register's OC Watchdog blog. Sforza has been crunching numbers and scanning anecdotes related to hits and misses in the skies above the Santa Ana airport.
The Airbus 319 was descending toward the JWA runway when an alarm announced, "TRAFFIC, TRAFFIC," just 400 feet below.
"My first response was to turn slightly left and decrease my rate of descent," the pilot writes in his FAA report. "I said something to the effect of 'Is this a 'ghost,' or is there really traffic?'"
The plane's Traffic Collision Alerting System (TCAS) monitor, which the pilot had a tough time reading due to sunlight filling the cockpit, then read, "MONITOR VERTICAL SPEED," followed by "CLIMB, CLIMB." The JWA tower advised, "Brake out with a right turn."
The Airbus 319 made the landing, but the pilot credited the TCAS with making "the save."
"Had TCAS been inoperative on this leg," he wrote, "I think this may well have been a major CNN story."
Sforza counted 261 reports involving JWA logged into the FAA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, "a voluntary, confidential and non-punitive incident-reporting system" that allows pilots, flight attendants, ground personnel, air-traffic controllers and others to report incidents in which they perceive safety was compromised.
"The reports represent a subjective opinion or perception about an event and do not always include complete information," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor reportedly told Sforza. "Because the reports are anonymous, the FAA cannot investigate or validate the data."
The information is collected by NASA, but only a small portion is released to the public, "which makes it unreliable for statistical analysis purposes," Gregor added.
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Sforza also tracked eight accidents involving JWA logged by the National Transportation Safety Board between 2000 and 2010, with seven of those involving small planes. There were two fatalities.
The Register scribe learned 44 incidents involving JWA were logged over the same period into the FAA's Accident/Incident Data System database. These are events that do not meet the National Transportation Safety Board definition of an accident. Collisions between aircraft and birds are examples of these.
Sforza promised more number crunching and OC Watchdog investigation into the reported accidents in the weeks ahead.
Grab your titanium umbrellas.