Blame Asserted in Plane Collision; Freight Company Says Controllers Should Have Alerted Pilots

Air freight company blames federal air traffic controllers for fiery ground collision between two planes at Mitchell International Airport.

In the 1990s, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association voiced alarm about several near-collisions on Mitchell's runways.

The airport wasn't in line for a top-of-the-line ground radar system, but under pressure from the Wisconsin congressional delegation, the FAA agreed to experiment with a system designed for maritime use. Mitchell became the first U.S. airport to test that system and in 2003 was the first to install the latest system.

Since Oct. 1, 2001, Mitchell has had 18 minor runway incidents, none posing a serious risk of collision, among more than 1.5 million takeoffs and landings, Cory said.

But the ground radar is intended to prevent collisions in poor visibility on runways, where high-speed takeoffs and landings leave little room for error, Cory said. It wasn't designed for taxiways crowded with slow-moving aircraft and vehicles, she said.

"The thing would be going off all the time if you had it configured for the taxiway," Cory said.

Wednesday's collision was the second runway accident at Mitchell in less than a week. On Sunday, a Northwest Airlines DC-9 ran off the end of a runway, slightly injuring one passenger.

But Bateman said the events were unrelated and not cause for concern.

"There's no trends here," Bateman said.

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