• Federal aviation officials are conducting an investigation into a recent incident involving an Alaska Airlines plane and a SkyWest aircraft near Portland International Airport. The event occurred during stormy conditions and saw an Alaska flight from Orange County, California, abort its landing as a SkyWest plane took off from a parallel runway.

  • Flight records and audio indicate that following the aborted landing, the Alaska aircraft veered toward the ascending SkyWest plane, prompting air traffic controller instructions to change course.

  • Both Alaska Airlines and SkyWest have stated that the safety of the flights was not compromised, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will assess the proximity of the two planes as part of the investigation. The incident comes amid increased scrutiny of aviation safety, prompted by previous safety lapses and close calls.

Federal aviation authorities are investigating a recent near miss between Alaska Airlines and SkyWest aircraft

PORTLAND — Federal aviation authorities are currently conducting an investigation into a recent in-air incident involving an Alaska Airlines plane and a SkyWest aircraft in the vicinity of Portland International Airport. The incident occurred during adverse weather conditions and has drawn the attention of aviation regulators.

Stormy Conditions Near Portland

This episode unfolded on a Monday afternoon amid stormy conditions. An Alaska Airlines flight taking off from Orange County, California, initiated its landing on an airport runway, only to discontinue the attempt as a SkyWest plane took off from a parallel airstrip situated to the north.

A Narrow Escape 

Immediately following the aborted landing, the Alaska aircraft altered its trajectory, veering toward the ascending SkyWest aircraft. The situation prompted repeated instructions from an air traffic controller, as evident from flight records and audio recordings reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive. These records show the air traffic controller guiding the Alaska flight and the SkyWest flight to follow different paths.

Reassurance From Airlines

Both Alaska Airlines and SkyWest issued statements following the event. Alaska Airlines emphasized its commitment to safety and confirmed that the crew of Flight 1299 adhered to cockpit indications, promptly increasing the separation between the two aircraft. The airline maintained that the safety of the flight was not compromised. In a separate statement, SkyWest also affirmed that flight safety remained intact during the incident.

FAA Investigation

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will carry out an investigation to determine the closest proximity between the two aircraft during the event. According to federal regulations, a near midair collision is defined when aircraft are within less than 500 feet of each other. To establish the specifics of the occurrence, the FAA will closely examine the flight data and related records.

National Aviation Safety Focus

The incident occurs at a time when aviation safety is under heightened scrutiny nationally. A New York Times investigation in August brought to light a concerning pattern of safety lapses and near misses in the U.S. aviation system. In response, the FAA stressed that while the U.S. aviation system is one of the safest globally, even a single close call is a matter of concern. Federal officials outlined various measures and investments to uphold and enhance flight safety.

Online Attention and Disclosure

It's worth noting that the FAA, Alaska Airlines, and SkyWest did not publicize the incident. However, the event gained attention online through a YouTube account that presented flight locations overlaid with air traffic audio. The video drew significant viewership, with more than 59,000 views and over 300 comments from individuals with aviation and air traffic control experience.

Inclement Weather and Flight Paths 

The incident occurred at approximately 4:15 p.m. local time on a day characterized by stormy conditions. The visibility at Portland International Airport was limited to three-quarters of a mile, accompanied by heavy rain and mist. Weather data from the National Weather Service indicates that around the time of the Alaska flight's approach, there was a quarter-inch of rainfall.

The aborted landing of the Alaska flight was attributed to strong winds, a common scenario referred to as a "go-around" in aviation. Flight records indicate that the aircraft descended to an elevation of 100 feet before ascending once more. Concurrently, SkyWest Airlines Flight 3978, operating as a Delta connection, took off from the parallel runway.

Air Traffic Control's Role

Publicly available air traffic control audio reveals key aspects of the incident. An air traffic controller instructed the Alaska flight to maintain its course along the runway heading, directing the SkyWest flight to turn to the right when it was able to do so. However, data and audio indicate that the Alaska flight reiterated the instruction to turn right and announced its course change. In contrast, the SkyWest flight continued on a straight path.

The air traffic controller subsequently made multiple attempts to rectify the Alaska flight's trajectory, even though he incorrectly referred to it as Flight 1298 instead of Flight 1299. At one point, he alerted the Alaska pilot to traffic ahead and to the right, which was traveling northbound at an altitude of 1,400 feet.

The incident reached a resolution as the Alaska aircraft adjusted its course to the left, and the SkyWest plane executed a right bank, ensuring that their flight paths did not overlap.

As of the time of reporting, there has been no response from the union representing Alaska pilots.

Flight Consequences and Resolution

In the aftermath of the incident, the SkyWest flight, operating as a Delta connection, landed routinely at Seattle. However, the Alaska flight opted to divert to Redmond Airport, with the inclement weather conditions in Portland cited as the reason.

During this period, six other Alaska flights arrived in Portland between 3:51 p.m. and 4:49 p.m. In a sequence, two flights touched down within two minutes of the aborted landing. Flight data indicates that Alaska Flight 1299 eventually landed in Portland at 11:45 p.m., over seven hours later than initially expected.

The duration of the federal investigation into this event remains uncertain.

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