Flight’s Close Call Prompts Safety Concerns

Southwest Airlines plane | Photo by Kevin Carter/Getty Images

A Southwest pilot struggling with low visibility during his flight’s descent into New York’s LaGuardia Airport came perilously close to the air traffic control tower before being ordered to abort the landing attempt.

The incident happened on March 23 during Southwest Flight 147, a Boeing 737 flight from Nashville to New York, with 150 people on board. The weather in the vicinity of LaGuardia at the time included severe winds and very low visibility, as reported by NBC New York. These precarious weather conditions caused the plane’s pilot to abort the initial landing attempt on Runway 4, telling the control tower, “We were too fast, too high with the tailwind.”

The close call with the tower happened on the pilot’s second attempt to land the aircraft as Flight 147 approached Runway 4 again after getting clearance from an air traffic controller. However, another air traffic controller urgently told the pilot to abort the landing soon after receiving clearance.

“Go around! Go around! Fly runway heading climb and maintain 2000! Climb and maintain 2000! 2000!” the controller said. According to NBC New York, the plane flew to the tower so close that the controllers could see the bottom of the aircraft.

After the incident, the first controller asked the second why the attempt was called off, to which the second controller replied, “It was not aligned with the runway at all. It was like east of the final. It was not gonna land on the runway.”

The flight was diverted to Baltimore, where it landed safely at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the near miss to determine whether “the aircraft flew over the tower at LaGuardia.”

The FAA, which hires air traffic controllers, claims part of the problem may stem from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that “forced the FAA to close its academy for six months in 2020 and pause on-the-job training at facilities for almost two years,” per a 2023 press release.

However, issues with air traffic control predate the COVID-19 lockdowns. The Obama administration’s agenda purportedly included hiring new controllers based on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles, as reported by UnHerd.

In 2013, the FAA overhauled its hiring process to eliminate aptitude test scores and replace them with a biographical questionnaire. This process explicitly favored applicants who had been unemployed for a number of years or were part of particular minority racial groups over experienced pilots and veterans with military air traffic control backgrounds, reported The Daily Signal.

As such, there has been an 83% increase in runway incursions between fiscal years 2011 and 2017. The FAA defines incursions “as any incident involving an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle, or person on a runway.”

The new DEI-centered process is the subject of an ongoing class action lawsuit on behalf of about 1,000 people who claim they were not hired due to the newly adopted standards.

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