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Instead of landing on the occupied runway, the Volaris pilot managed to pass over the other plane and then regain altitude. Instead of landing on the occupied runway, the Volaris pilot managed to pass over the other plane and then regain altitude. Screenshot

Pilots avoid collision on runway at AICM after getting permission to land

The pilots were forced to terminate their descent at the last minute

Pilots of a Volaris plane narrowly averted a disaster at the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) Saturday night after they were apparently cleared to land on a runway where another aircraft of the same airline was waiting to take off.

A flight from Mazatlán was about to touch down when the pilots noticed that another Volaris plane was on the 05L runway. They abruptly terminated their descent to avoid colliding with the other plane, which was about to take off to Guatemala City.

The incident came just days after the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) raised concerns about the capacity of air traffic controllers to direct flights into the AICM. An investigation into the apparent air traffic control blunder is underway.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Communications and Transportation (SICT) said in a statement that the director of the government agency Seneam (Navigation Services for Mexican Airspace) had resigned following the incident.

But in an interview with the Milenio media group, deputy transportation minister Rogelio Jiménez Pons said the SICT had in fact dismissed Víctor Hernández.

A passenger in a nearby plane captured the close encounter on video.

Jiménez said Hernández had not managed the Seneam work environment well and his technical management of the agency was poor. The incident on Saturday was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Jiménez also said that Seneam under Hernández’s leadership hadn’t maintained good communication with the aviation industry.

“Seneam is a services agency and suddenly it started acting like it was an authority. That has to change, it [has to be] at the service of airlines. It has to have a different, more collaborative attitude,” he said.

Jiménez said the incident at the AICM was dangerous but a disaster was thankfully averted due to the dexterity of the pilots. He said the occurrence was unprecedented and “mustn’t happen again.”

IFALPA issued a safety bulletin last week advising that in the past month it has been made aware of several incidents involving aircraft arriving at the AICM with limited fuel due to “unplanned holding, diversions for excessive delays, and significant GPWS [ground proximity warning system] alerts where one crew almost had a controlled flight into terrain.”

It said that with the opening of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport – which began operations on March 21 –  it would appear that air traffic controllers at the AICM have received little training and support as to how to direct flights operating in the new airspace configuration.

But Jiménez said that the latest incident was not related to the redesign of airspace in the greater Mexico City area.

In a letter sent to Seneam last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents almost 300 airlines, said there had been at least 17 incidents of GPWS alerts at the AICM over the past year.

But the SICT said Friday that neither Seneam nor the Federal Civil Aviation Agency (AFAC) has received any official reports of such incidents. It said the last GPWS alert incident at the AICM occurred on June 15, 2021.

The SICT said it is “working to guarantee operational safety” for all airlines that operate in Mexico and that the AFAC and Seneam have attended to formal reports of incidents in a timely manner.

“It’s important to say that air operators, mainly [airline] crews, as well as air traffic controllers must immediately report any event that could place safety at our airports and in our air space at risk,” the ministry said.

The SICT also said that an air safety working group has been formed to address the concerns raised by IFALPA.

“The policy of this ministry is that all reports concerning operational safety are taken with the utmost seriousness and are investigated in accordance with the practices recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” it said.

With reports from Milenio and El País

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