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Newark Liberty Airport Construction Project Eyed In Near-Collision

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A day after the revelation that two planes nearly collided over Newark Liberty International Airport last month, CBS 2 has learned that a runway construction project may be causing confusion.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, the near-collision happened after an air traffic controller gave the clearance to an ExpressJet headed to Memphis to take off. The National Transportation Safety Board found the pilots didn’t immediately respond to the order, which started a chain of event that could’ve ended tragically.

A preliminary report found that by the time the ExpressJet started its takeoff from Runway 4-Right, it was dangerously closing in on a United 737 landing on an intersecting runway.

The planes came within about 130 yards of each other vertically and about 50 yards laterally — so close that the ExpressJet plane had to keep its nose down as a precaution.

The NTSB calls the incident a “near-midair collision.”

It happened nearly a month into a massive $97 million runway rehabilitation project that shut down a runway for 60 days starting April 1.

During a Port Authority meeting last July, Tom Bosco, the agency’s aviation director, described why the project was so important.

“The runway was last resurfaced in 2003,” he said. “Recent inspections have shown that there are significant pavement deficiencies, such as cracking, spalling and pavement wear and settlement.”

The closed runway is Newark’s longest and handles about 200,000 flights annually.

As a result of the project, controllers are pushing more flights than normal onto an intersecting runway.

The air traffic controllers union says controllers were given extra training in preparation of the construction closure.

The United flight was carrying six crew and 155 passengers. The ExpressJet flight was carrying three crew and 47 passengers.

The NTSB is now going to look at whether the runway closure might have a hand in the near-collision.

“The NTSB is going to be looking at all factors — if processes were shortcutted or if something else happened here to create this environment where this catastrophe could’ve occurred,” said Mark Rosenker, CBS News’ national transportation safety expert and a former NTSB chairman.

The Federal Aviation Administration told CBS 2 on Tuesday it has already adjusted its protocol for arriving and departing flights following the close call.

“The FAA has investigated the recent air traffic incident at Newark and has taken steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future,” the agency said in a statement. ” The FAA has stopped using Runway 29 at Newark-Liberty International Airport for arrivals when flights are departing on Runway 4R.”

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