NEW YORK – A frightening collision between one of the world’s largest airliners and a commuter jet on a dark, wet tarmac at Kennedy Airport is underscoring worries about ground accidents as U.S. airports begin handling a new generation of giant planes.
A total of 586 passengers and crew members were aboard the two aircraft Monday night when the left wing of an Airbus A380 operated by Air France clipped a Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet flown by Comair, spinning the smaller plane nearly 90 degrees. No one was injured.
The superjumbo Airbus is so immense – as tall as a seven-story building – that its wing almost cleared the smaller plane. But not quite.
“It’s the sheer size of these aircraft and the congestion at these airports that’s the problem,” said Allan Tamm, a consultant with Avicor Aviation, based in Portland. “It’s a serious concern for all these airports trying to accommodate these aircraft. It’s going to happen more and more.”
The collision happened at one of the nation’s most congested airports on a rainy night when flashing lights reflecting off wet tarmac can obscure small aircraft. It comes as airports around the country are beginning to receive a new class of huge aircraft.
Fourteen airports have obtained waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration to receive the new Boeing 747-8, which falls into the same new size class as the A380. Boeing is working with 13 more airports to get approval from the FAA.
Most U.S. airports cannot legally handle the A380 or 747-8 because of FAA space requirements aimed at keeping planes from bumping into each other. But the FAA can issue waivers if airport officials agree to certain procedures, such as using only certain taxiways or halting other traffic when one of these mammoth planes is on the move.
The National Transportation Safety Board is reviewing radio recordings, radar data and flight recorders from both aircraft in Monday’s accident.
The impact tore open the leading edge of the Airbus’ left wing and broke off half of the wing fence, a vertical fin that sticks out from the wingtip. The Bombardier had a hole in its rudder and a dent on the leading edge of the tail.
“This wasn’t just two airplanes bumping together. The Air France plane really creamed the regional jet,” said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, an advocacy group.