No one was injured in the incident, the FAA announced, but the collision appears to have happened under circumstances similar to the near misses at airports that have alarmed aviation officials this year. The National Transportation Safety Board said it would send a team of six investigators to determine what happened.
The planes were using intersecting runways at William Hobby Airport in Houston, according to flight tracking data. The first jet, a Hawker 850XP carrying three people, was taking off to the southwest, while the other, a Cessna Citation with five people, was coming in to land from the northwest. The Hawker had been instructed by air traffic control to line up and wait on the runway, according to the NTSB.
While an air traffic controller directed the Hawker pilot to continue on, he responded, "I just had a midair. We can't do that." The controller said, "You said what?" according to an audio recording archived by LiveATC.net. "You guys cleared somebody to take off or land and we hit them on a departure," the pilot said.
The Hawker was able to take off and then circle back around to land at the airport. Air traffic controllers can be heard scrambling in the audio recording to redirect other traffic and to send a team onto the airfield to determine what happened. Local television news images showed damage to one plane and the wing of the other.
The airport, which is also used by major airlines, was closed for hours Tuesday afternoon and air traffic controllers had to divert several approaching flights over to nearby George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. The owners of the two planes could not be reached for comment.
The Tuesday collision happened hours before the Senate confirmed Michael Whitaker as the new administrator of the FAA, filling a role that was vacant for 18 months. One of his early priorities will be to bolster aviation safety after a string of near misses at airports throughout the year, a number of them involving airliners.