A landing jumbo jet speeding down a runway at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) came within 50 feet of colliding with a smaller airplane that was on a nearby taxiway Sunday, May 6th, federal aviation officials said.

As the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600 jumbo jet was landing on the northernmost runway at LAX at about 6:35 p.m., the tip of one of its wings narrowly missed striking a SkyWest turboprop that had already landed and was on a taxiway, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is investigating the incident.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency has not yet classified the seriousness of the incident. But officials said the near-collision appears to be the most serious at LAX since September, when two planes came within 100 feet of colliding on a runway.

The May 6th incident is reportedly the third runway close call to occur at LAX this year.

While the seriousness of the most recent incident has yet to be categorized by the FAA, Michael Foote, local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the air traffic controller’s union, said the controllers who witnessed the incident described it as “the closest they had ever seen” two planes come to colliding.

“It was pretty close,” Foote said.

Gregor said the incident occurred after the SkyWest turboprop arrived from Redding, California and was instructed by traffic controllers to taxi without delay and turn onto a taxiway called “Zulu.”

But instead, the SkyWest pilot turned onto a different taxiway called “Yankee,” at which point the controller reportedly told the pilot, “I said Zulu, sir.”

The turboprop pilot then turned the plane around and headed back toward the northern runway as the Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet arriving from London was about to touch down, Gregor said.

The controller told the SkyWest pilot to “stop right there” on the taxiway as an anti-collision alarm system sounded in the tower. Another controller instructed the Virgin Atlantic jet to “go around” and abort the landing but it was too late, Gregor said.

The jumbo jet landed on the runway, with the tip of its wing coming as close as 50 feet from the SkyWest plane on the taxiway as the jet sped by, he said.

While the SkyWest plane was clear of the runway edge, the two planes came so close because the Virgin Atlantic jet’s large wing extends beyond the runway edge, Gregor said.

The FAA is continuing to investigate the incident, but Gregor said the agency had initially determined that there was pilot error on the part of the SkyWest pilot.

Following the close call, the Virgin Atlantic pilot contacted the air traffic control tower to commend the controllers on their handling of the situation, Gregor said.

In response to this latest runway close call to occur at LAX, 11th District Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he was “deeply concerned.”

“For more than a year, I have asked the Federal Aviation Administration for a quantifiable, technical analysis of the airfield runway safety issue,” Rosendahl said. “This incident underscores the need for such a study.”

The councilman said he plans to hold a town hall meeting on runway safety issues and encourages airport and federal aviation officials to discuss proposed solutions with the public.

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