2 Planes Nearly Collided Due To Air Traffic Controller's Slip Of The Tongue

By Bill Galluccio

July 20, 2021

Air Traffic Controller
Photo: Getty Images

Two planes nearly collided at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris last year due to a "slip of the tongue" by an air traffic controller. The incident happened on July 20, 2020, and was detailed in a newly released report by the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis.

A United Airlines Boeing 787 from Newark, New Jersey, requested permission to land, and the air traffic controller told them to use runway 09R instead of runway 09L. The pilots were perplexed by the change in runways and asked for confirmation.

"Understand cleared to land 09 Right, sidestep for 9 Right United 57," the pilot said.

The air traffic controller did not respond immediately, and the plane began to maneuver towards the other runway. At the same time, the air traffic controller told an EasyJet Airbus A320 that it was cleared for takeoff on the same runway. As the EasyJet plane approached the runway, the pilots noticed the 787 was making preparations to land.

The United jet was just 80 feet off the ground and came within 300-feet of the Airbus. Luckily, the pilot managed to abort the landing and pull up in time to avoid a head-on collision.

The air traffic controller told investigators that "her tongue had slipped because she was focused on runway 09 right with an Air France Boeing 787 that had just landed there." According to the report, the Air France plane had previously requested permission to land on runway 09R because it was dealing with a mechanical issue and needed the longer runway to land safely.

The report also placed some blame on the United Airlines pilots for not using more precise language when confirming the runway change.

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