Heroic American Airlines Pilot Averts Disaster In Orlando As ATC Puts Frontier Plane In Takeoff Path

On May 6, air traffic control cleared American Airlines flight 2473 to take off for Dallas. Then – immediately after – the same air traffic controller cleared Frontier 1734 from Denver to cross the same runway to head towards its gate.

  • The American Airlines pilots noticed traffic on the runway and rejected takeoff. The controller notices what’s happened, and told the pilots to cancel takeoff. They’d already done so.

  • The controller got lucky. The passengers got lucky that their pilots had the skill and situational awareness not to simply trust the instructions they’d been given. This would have been much closer otherwise.

  • And the controller did not even apologize or acknowledge what had happened. The flight returned to the gate – the captain deciding it wasn’t a good idea for him to try that again right then.

Here’s air traffic control communications synced up with aircraft movements:

I’ve been increasingly concerned with air traffic control incidents. The FAA air traffic organization has badly bungled technology investments over the last 20 years. Way too much is manual, reliant on people coordinating and noticing and people make mistakes.

There are 300 near-collisions per year. Last month, for instance, we saw four planes cross in front of a jet about to take off from New York JFK and Southwest and JetBlue jets come within 300 feet of colliding on a runway at Washington National airport.

(HT: Nate V)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As I said earlier it is only a matter of time until this DEI crap causes hundred of deaths.
    Big high five for the AA crew.

  2. It’s going to happen soon. Just a matter of time at this point. What will the “experts” from the FAA/NTSB have to say about it when it’s too late and all of these close calls could have been learned from?

  3. Trust but verify………being PIC is doing just that. The AA Flight crew/Captain was situationally aware and were doing their job. And the Frontier Crew weren’t paying attention…..along with the Tower controller!

  4. People are much too worried about hardware failure in the aircraft causing a crash. We should be worried most about wetware failure on the ground.

  5. FAA needs to pay aFINE based on the number of people on both planes involved to each airline. And it must be done publicly

    If it applies to the airlines it applies to FAA

  6. @woofie. DEI isn’t affirmative action. It has nothing to do with hiring less qualified people because of their race/gender/etc…

  7. The AA Pilot in Command deserves a medal, a raise, and free 1st class flights anywhere in the world with the paid time off!! Thank you Sir!! Well Done!

  8. Thank Gd someone was paying attention. Miracle! Did the asshat in the control tower get fired?

  9. I hope its not going to take a KLM/Pan Am Tenerife type accident to get FAA moving. Everything revolves around the the active runway. Must start with that.
    Maybe needs a temporary light bar at every taxiway access to active runway. eg. bold yellow, reading ‘NO ACCESS” that ATC active runway controller turns on when a). a/c cleared for take off or b). landing a/c is within (eg. 4 miles) of the active runway. And is turned off when active runway is cleared.
    Needs a small group of pilots/controllers to review options and make recommendations.

  10. If they got up to any speed you’ve got to go back to the gate to check the brakes after any rejected takeoff. That’s a lot of weight to stop and the brakes have to be in a state to do it again if you try to take off.

  11. ATC hasn’t been the same since Teflon Ronnie fired the experienced ones for striking. If you don’t pay them a livable wage, you won’t get good people.
    DEI has nothing to do with this, just another scare tactic by republicans.

  12. It is always one of typically three parties that manage to stop these runway incidents.

    Let’s remember that it was an AA 777 that crossed in front of a DL 737 at JFK that was taking off at much higher speed. The DL flight, like the AA pilots, decided it best to not continue the flight.

    The fact that ATC continues as if these things are routine is the problem. Add in that it involved the same controller and the system is clearly broken

  13. Reading the comments from VASAviation, this was an early morning departure, and the sun might not have been out (or glaring in the face of the Frontier pilots). And there was a shift change happening in the tower. Regardless, the controller probably should have looked up and at the AA on the runway before clearing F9.

    We hear about ATC telling pilots “I have a number for you to call, possible pilot deviation” – I wonder who gets to tell the ATC *they* have a number to call?

  14. Well Gary you make a strong argument for keeping two pilots in the cockpit. Airlines have started to make noise about cutting back to a single pilot, which has pretty vast and obvious shortcomings, not least of which is having two people to see problems like an ATC mistake.

    Ultimately, the USA ATC system will be upgraded; It’s just going to take a catastrophe to get the government to prioritize moving the system into this century.

  15. Diaper donnie knows more about ATC than anyone else in the world and has everything figured out.

    Give him two weeks and he will tell us the solution but only if he is elected. Although with his advanced stage of dementia, he will have already forgotten even if he decided to tell us tomorrow.

    Good thing we will never know.

    @woffi – you’re embarrassing yourself, but I guess this is not a concern to magas.

  16. Woofie, unless you have evidence that the incident was indicative of DEI policies, please stay away from the roofies.

  17. So you’re saying that government being responsible for ATC hasn’t resulted in efficient, capable and cost effective results? Color me shocked.

    Have any of the leftist idiot commentators blamed Reagan yet?

  18. Heroic? Please, this AA pilot did his job. Noteworthy, yes, but not “heroic” by any means. They are paid what $300k-$500k now? For that much $$$$ I would hope that they are good at their job. Shame on the Air Traffic controller.

  19. @Meagan Leigh – the word moron comes to find. First, Reagan fired the controllers in August of 1981. New hires back then have likely put in a full career of service and retired by now.

    Second, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports “The median annual wage for air traffic controllers was $137,380 in May 2023. ” That doesn’t take into account benefits, which are very good. You care to make the argument that’s not a liveable wage? Wise up. Turn off MSNBC.

  20. @SadStateofOurNation: oh yeah, because the current senile occupant of the WH who soils himself is so on top of everything? And yes, dumbing down vital government agencies by focusing on DEI goals will – God willing – stop when the current lying POS is ushered out of the White House in January. Using a walker.

  21. This is happening because the FAA is focused more on DEI crap over training, which now takes a back seat. They’re so zeroed in on diversity hires over getting qualified controllers. Many of us have been warning about the consequences of this for awhile.

  22. I don’t think we can deny that merits and competence are no longer the top criteria in education, hiring, etc. The results are predictable, even though they may take time to manifest themselves and convince those who wish they weren’t true.

  23. Calling this situation heroic seems a bit like praising an elementary schooler for looking both ways before crossing the road.

  24. Not sure why people think the ATC was a DEI hire, but the pilots aren’t? Somebody is assuming the pilots are white males. Often not the case now a days.

  25. DEI doesn’t get you worse controllers, it gets you BETTER controllers, because you’re looking for the most talented candidates rather than limiting your search to those who can and are willing to finance ATC schooling.

    If you look at any work environment and it is primarily white and male, that’s not because they’re promoting the best and the brightest. It’s because they’re promoting available white men INSTEAD of finding the best and the brightest.

    (Yes, maybe the currently available most trained people are mostly white because whatever work environment requires years of schooling, but even there you’re missing out on talent in favor of people who could afford to buy more practice/training.)

  26. @Christian: Actually, situations like this are a strong argument for getting pilots out of the cockpit and programming planes to not fly/taxi into each other despite what communication issues the pilots and ATC may be having.

  27. @tim Dunn
    Its amazing how you can turn a story that has nothing to do with DL into DL !!!!!!!!

  28. as glad as I am that AA had the fast-thinking pilots this time, that list of runway incursions includes an AA 777 that not only failed to follow ATC directions but taxied in front of a DL aircraft that was at a higher rate of speed when the DL pilots needed to slam on the brakes.
    Not all runway incursions are due to ATC error and AA has had pilots that had to fix other people’s problems while causing problems for other airlines.

    that balance is essential as part of the conversation.

  29. While the Government is concerned about old bridges that block buses from getting to the beach because of equity, more important things like the lives of EVERYONE are being risked daily. They need to get priorities straight.

  30. @Woofie @AngryFlier @ChrisInNY @BenG – Lets take a further step down into the sewer. Still awaiting any evidence that the INDIVIDUALS involved in the incident were somehow subjects of DEI policy. Guess my face will change several colors while holding my breath in anticipation.

    Every voice I heard on that recording must have emanated from very capable code switchers.

  31. @SadStateofOurNation Once again shows their ignorance by bringing politics into a non political matter. The bottom line is that we need more ATC. Many retired during the pandemic and were slow to be replaced. Now that we have an uptick in travel one can easily see the deficit in staffing.

  32. I’m both surprised and amazed that the author has written a piece that has something positive to say about American Airlines or its employees.

  33. CMorgan
    you can’t speak the truth that controllers, just like pilots, have mandatory retirements and left during the pandemic when it was far from clear when they could go back to work.
    had nothing to do with Reagan.

    airlines moved faster to restaff their operations. The FAA is now handing out slot waivers to reduce demand in the most understaffed areas of the country

    Could the FAA have moved faster? who knows but, if the FAA would actually hire people that want to work for them
    Many universities quit offering ATC programs because the FAA chose to bypass training for other objectives.

  34. This story illustrates why pilots are not overpaid and why putting a 250-hour “pilot” on the flight deck is a recipe for disaster.

  35. @1k, the pilot saw another plane so stopped his plane. That requires how many hours of training?

  36. The term heroic is used pretty liberally today. Like Capt. Sully this pilot was not “heroic” he did his job and …… did it well.

    The more significant issue with the current workforce is the chickens coming home to roost.

    It is correct to state, air-traffic control staffing shortages predate the FAA’s current leadership. Though I am not a fan of the current administration, I challenge anyone to find a time in modern history when major Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Air Traffic Control facilities were fully or even close to being fully staffed. As just one example at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) in the early to mid 1970s, the journeyman level staffing never exceeded 50% -60% of what was authorized. This in spite of the fact, prior to 1973, individuals who had been Controllers in the military was a primary source of hires for the FAA. Since the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of the “Draft”, the number of valued former military hires is no longer a significant contribution (in numbers) to FAA staffing.

    The primary problem is the FAA is a government agency and operates at the whim of politicians, and has on occasion instituted a hiring freeze as a real or perceived effort toward fiscal responsibility and perhaps to please their audience. As a result, hiring has always been sporadic, even though since 1972 (Public Law 92-297) the FAA knows definitively what impact retirement will have on the workforce since a Controller is required to retire at age 56, and voluntarily retire at age 50 with 25 years as a Controller, but fail to hire replacements accordingly.

    To further exacerbate the situation, in December 2013, the FAA dropped the preference for College Training Initiative (CTI) graduates and instead relied only on a biographical questionnaire to fill controller positions. Those colleges believe the FAA changes were made based on an agency diversity study that examined the race and gender of CTI graduates. Established by the FAA in1982, the CTI was a very successful college training program eventually enlisting 28 colleges to provide initial air traffic control training. By the way, students attending these private and public institutions were motivated and paid for the education they received, unlike the majority of applicants hired as a result of the December 2013 policy change. Prior to December 2013, many colleges, such as the Community College of Beaver County (Pennsylvania) , maintained a minimum of a 6 month long waiting list to enter the program. After the December 2013 change, a number of these schools discontinued their ATC curriculum due to a lack of students. The initiative to improve racial diversity has made a mockery of the screening process. In fiscal year 2020 the Controller Hiring Reform Act was enacted in an attempt to rectify the problems incurred as a result of the December 2013 decision. The recent law now gives preference to those who have graduated with a four-year degree from a CTI school or have parallel military ATC experience. However it will take years to overcome the 2013 fiasco; i.e. hiring individuals who might not have had the ability and motivation to do the job. In the meantime “the chickens are coming home to roost”, in the form of increased incidents. Keep in mind applicants hired as a result of the 2020 Act, returning hiring to some degree of normalcy, will be trained by those Controllers hired during the period that questionable hiring policies were in place. On April 25, 2024, Fox Business reported that a lawsuit had been filed against the FAA regarding the December 2013 change in the hiring process.

    Once again consider the hiring implications of PL92-297; i.e. applicants must be hired before their 31st birthday. Recent surveys have indicated, the generation of individuals eligible to be hired under the law has indicated an aversion to a high stress, demanding work environment. At least for now, Air Traffic Control is not a stay at home profession, but rather a career requiring motivation and an aptitude not necessarily achieved by acquiring a traditional form of “higher education”.
    Thanks for listening. There is plenty of material available regarding this issue, should you choose to do additional research. Don’t take my word for it …

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