Southwest Runway Incursion Causes JetBlue Rejected Takeoff

By Spyros Georgilidakis | April 19, 2024

A JetBlue flight crew had to reject their takeoff when it became clear that a Southwest aircraft was about to enter the same runway.

This incident happened on the morning of Thursday the 18th of April. It involved two flights planning to depart from Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (KDCA). JetBlue flight B6-1554 should have departed first, at 7:35 AM, heading for Boston Logan International Airport (KBOS).

One of the incident aircraft. Photo: Eric Salard, CC BY-SA 2.0

While the JetBlue aircraft lined up for departure on runway 04, Southwest flight WN-2937 was taxiing for departure. Its destination was Orlando International Airport (KMCO). The Southwest crew would use runway 01, and getting there involved crossing runway 04, just as the JetBlue flight was about to depart.

According to a later statement of the Southwest crew, they believed that a ground controller had cleared them to cross the runway. That controller had said:

Southwest 2937, Washington Ground, give way to the American Airbus left to right, runway 01, taxi via Kilo, Charlie, cross 4 at Charlie, pull over to the right and call me the other side.

The other incident aircraft. Photo: Bill Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0

So the controller didn’t say “CLEARED to cross 4”. However, the readback of the Southwest crew was:

Alright, after American going to 1, Kilo, Charlie, cleared to cross 4 and stay to the right.

JetBlue and Southwest Flights Stop Safely

Unfortunately, the ground controller didn’t catch the readback error. And as the Southwest aircraft approached the hold-short line for runway 4, the tower controller cleared the JetBlue flight for takeoff.

Southwest Runway Incursion Causes JetBlue Rejected Takeoff
More recent photo of the JetBlue aircraft in this incident. Photo: Dave Montiverdi, CC BY-SA 4.0

Fortunately, the controllers reacted quickly when they saw that the Southwest aircraft did not stop at the hold short line. The tower controller told the JetBlue flight to stop on the runway, while the ground controller said the same to the Southwest flight.

Both flight crews radioed back that they were stopping. When they did, the JetBlue and Southwest aircraft were reportedly around 120 meters (400 feet) apart. This was the closest they got to each other before the JetBlue crew turned off the runway.

Southwest Runway Incursion Causes JetBlue Rejected Takeoff
Southwest’s 737 had a special livery at the time of the incident. Photo: Maxwellvanagon, CC BY-SA 4.0

After the incident, the Southwest crew were cleared to cross runway 04, and taxi to their departing runway. They had an otherwise uneventful flight. However, the JetBlue crew returned to the apron. The flight would depart for its destination in the same aircraft but with a six-hour delay.

The Southwest aircraft is a six-year-old Boeing 737 MAX-8, with registration N8710M. JetBlue’s jet is a thirteen-year-old Embraer E190, with tail number N323JB. Both JetBlue and the Southwest aircraft would continue routine service after the incident.


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