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Cork Airport inquiry says aircraft got green light to take off - despite vehicle on runway

Investigation was launched into incident involving a Boeing 737 carrying 164 passengers and six crew.

Image: James Horan/Photocall Ireland

AN INQUIRY BY THE Air Accident Investigation Unit into an incident at Cork Airport in 2009 has concluded that a plane was given clearance for take-off just as a vehicle was allowed to carry out an inspection on the same runway.

The incident occurred on the morning of 22 July 2009 and involved a Boeing 737 with over 160 passengers on board.

The investigators’ report said that the plane and an airport operations vehicle were just 700m apart when at their closest on the runway.

It said that the driver of the operations plane noticed that the Boeing was manoeuvring for take-off from the same runway, number 17. The driver of the vehicle “vacated the main runway” and contacted the air control tower to inform them of the incident.

The report said that the surface movements controller on duty that morning had received a distressing family-related phone call and had requested a relief break about 15 minutes before the near-miss on runway 17. This was granted and the air movement controller took over his work in addition to their own.

Investigators concluded that although the two roles can be amalgamated at times of light traffic, the workload on the air movement controller at that time “contributed to a level of distraction”. A note in the traffic control tower marked ‘runway occupied’ to signify the presence of the operations vehicle on the runway was accidentally removed, meaning the vehicle remained on the runway but appeared otherwise to the air controller.

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Recommendations made by an internal Irish Aviation Authority investigation have been implemented, including using dual frequency radio on service vehicles (which would have permitted the driver to hear the plane’s request for take-off) and vehicles using headlights and hazard lights in addition to their amber rotating beacons.

The AAIU said that in light of those recommendations, it does not make any further recommendations.

Read the Air Accident Investigation report in full >

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