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Airport authority opens probe into alleged near collision in Barcelona

Approaching airliner seen in video pulling up as another aircraft taxies across runway

The plane makes its landing approach as another one crosses the runway.
The plane makes its landing approach as another one crosses the runway.

Spanish airport authorities have opened an investigation into an incident that took place last Saturday at Barcelona airport, where an incoming airplane was forced to pull up as it was approaching the ground after it saw another aircraft taxi across its path on the same runway.

The incident was captured at 6.50am by an amateur cameraman who was “plane spotting” at El Prat airport, and the footage has since spread over the social networks, sparking claims of a near collision, something that the authorities and aviation professionals deny.

The video shows an Aerolíneas Argentinas Airbus A340-300 crossing runway 02 on its way to runway 25R, where it had been cleared for takeoff. Meanwhile, a Boeing 767-30 operated by the Russian airline Utair is seen approaching, before suddenly pulling up again and performing a go-around maneuver.

Professional sources said that radar data indicate the Russian aircraft was 200 feet (around 60 meters) and 20 seconds away from landing. Spanish airports authority AENA would not confirm this, alleging that an investigation is still underway.

Go-around maneuvers are ultimately up to the pilots, who are trained to perform them

The airport authority has informed the Civil Aviation Commitee for Accident and Incident Investigations (CIAIAC). “This investigation will confirm the existence of said incident and determine its causes,” said AENA in a statement. In any case, it adds, the amateur video footage “is not part of the investigation.”

“It was a serious incident, but there was no risk of collision,” explained David Guillamón, spokesman for the Association of Air Traffic Controllers (APROCTA).

Sources at Barcelona airport confirmed that there was no danger and said the images are taken from a misleading angle. Yet either the Russian pilot or the air controller were not quite as certain, and preferred to take the plane back up.

Guillamón believes there was very likely a human error involved, either on the part of the controller who cleared the Argentinean plane to taxi across the runway despite the incoming Boeing or on the part of the Aerolíneas Argentinas pilot, if he decided to enter the runway without clearance.

Go-around maneuvers are ultimately up to the pilots, who are trained to perform them, according to the airport authority. These decisions can be made because of inclement weather or because of a human error that brings them too close to other aircraft. There were over 200 go-arounds at El Prat airport last year, said Guillamón.