FAA investigating incident involving planes circling DFW Airport during severe weather

The FAA is investigating after three planes got too close while circling DFW Airport during severe weather last week.

It comes amid increased scrutiny over close calls involving airplanes in the U.S.

The incident at DFW came one day after aviation leaders held a safety summit where some recent close calls were a major focus.

As a storm that spawned tornadoes and hail swept across North Texas on March 16, planes were in a holding pattern near DFW Airport waiting for conditions to improve.

The FAA said it’s now investigating after three planes got too close to each other.

"In a weather situation, there's going to have to be a lot of deviating," retired airline captain Chris Manno said.

Manno noted that pilots in a holding pattern sometimes have to make quick adjustments because of storms.

"At a typical airport that's as busy as DFW, sometimes you have to, you know, you can't fly into dangerous weather, so you'll have to avoid it," he explained.


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According to the FAA, the incident involved three planes, one from FedEx, UPS, and United.

The FAA said the FedEx flight got an alert from its traffic collision avoidance system, known as TCAS, because a UPS flight was too close. 

That forced the FedEx flight to descend in response, which then caused a nearby United flight to do the same thing.

According to the FAA, while the planes got within 1000 feet vertically, they were more than a mile away laterally.

All three flights eventually landed at DFW safely.

Manno said it appears the TCAS system, which directs pilots away from potential danger, worked as intended.

"Every briefing, I would start in flight with a lot of mandatory things just so that the first officer would know and say, ‘If we get a TCAS resolution advisory, we will follow it unless we can both confirm visually that no conflict exists," he said. "Well, weather you can't confirm, at night you can't confirm. So, if you get an RA, resolution advisory, you simply do what that computer is saying with the faith, that if that causes a loss of separation with another aircraft, the same thing will happen again."

The incident comes amid heightened scrutiny over a series of close calls involving airlines, especially on and around the runways.

There is also an investigation underway into how a Southwest plane came within 200 feet of an emergency vehicle while taking off from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in January.

That same day, the FAA also issued an alert to the airline industry urging them to brush up on protocols and safety standards.

That all comes just a week after an impromptu safety summit.

"The NTSB has issued seven recommendations on runway collisions that have not been acted upon. One is 23 years old and still appropriate today," National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said.

Manno believes all the recent incidents in the news actually highlight the importance of safety.

"I think that it actually speaks well for the safety of the system, that this actually makes the news, because it just doesn't happen that often. And in this case, everything worked as it should and everything worked out well," he added.

In a memo Thursday, a senior FAA leader laid out five additional steps the organization will take to improve safety, including making sure supervisors are able to devote their full attention during peak traffic periods.