Steamboat Springs A March incident at Yampa Valley Regional Airport has resulted in a 60-day certificate suspension for a SkyWest Airlines pilot, though he has appealed the decision.
On the afternoon of March 1, SkyWest pilot Timothy McCabe, who was operating a United Express flight, reportedly told Denver air traffic controllers that he had landed when he was not yet on the runway in Hayden. Denver gave a nine- to 12-passenger King Air clearance to take off. The planes narrowly avoided a collision, observers said.
Neither plane was talking to YVRA on its UNICOM radio system when the violation occurred, said West Routt Fire Chief Bryan Rickman, who was operating the radio. He could do nothing but watch as the United Express pilot saw the King Air on the runway and maneuvered to avoid a collision.
"I was scared to death we were going to have a major incident there," he said.
McCabe was operating a 66-passenger CRJ-700 as United Express flight No. 6573. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the suspension of McCabe's Airline Transport Pilot certificate, and an administrative law judge for the National Transportation Safety Board affirmed it Nov. 13.
That ruling does not close the book on the incident, regional FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer wrote in an e-mail.
"The airman has notified the Board that he intends to appeal this decision to the full board, so the action is not final until his appeals are exhausted," Kenitzer said in the e-mail. "Until that time, he continues to exercise his airman's privileges."
SkyWest spokeswoman Marissa Snow said Tuesday that the airline has strict communication procedures.
"At SkyWest, safety is our first priority. We have strict standard operating procedures, including communication procedures at non-tower airports, in place to ensure the safety of our passengers is always first," Snow said. "However, SkyWest takes violations of safety protocol very seriously and will ensure corrective action follows any final decision in this case."
Typically, Rickman said, planes have one radio tuned to Denver's frequency and another tuned to YVRA's UNICOM frequency. YVRA is an uncontrolled airport, which means it doesn't have a tower that's part of the FAA air traffic control system.
At the time of the incident, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said the SkyWest pilot told air traffic controllers in Denver that he was canceling "instrument flight rules." Instrument flight rules are a set of rules for flying by aircraft instruments only, while separation from other aircraft is provided by air traffic control. When a pilot cancels those, he then operates under "visual flight rules" and is responsible for navigation, obstacle clearance and traffic separation.
Typically, several pilots said at the time of the incident, pilots switch to the local UNICOM system after canceling instrument flight rules. Doing so would have put McCabe in contact with YVRA.
On March 1, McCabe told Denver controllers he was "on the deck" while he was still in the air, said Rickman, who testified at the hearing. Although Rickman could hear what was said between the planes and Denver, he could not break in because only aircraft are allowed to communicate on that frequency.
"I was screaming on the radio, 'Don't take the runway, we've got an airplane that (is) ready to take off,'" Rickman said. "Nobody was on the radio. Neither of the pilots heard that."
Rickman said he expected a collision either above or on the runway. His adrenaline shot through the roof.
"That's probably one of the worst things you can imagine would happen when you are a firefighter at an airport is a nose-to-nose collision," Rickman said. "Especially at those speeds."