Questions are arising over the experience levels of air traffic controllers on duty at Lehigh Valley International Airport on 19 September when a Bombardier CRJ700 came within 10ft of striking a Cessna 172.

The incident occurred on Runway 6 at the airport located in Allentown, Pennsylvania. A Chicago-bound CRJ700 flown by Mesa Airlines under the United Express banner reached a 120kt speed when the aircraft's pilots saw the Cessna on the runway ahead and swerved to avoid the smaller aircraft.

An initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted the Cessna landed earlier but missed the runway exit.

The same air traffic controller that asked the Cessna to turn off taxiway A4 cleared the CRJ for takeoff.

During a Congressional hearing today on runway safety National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Patrick Forrey told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the two controllers on duty at the time were trainees. He says a total of eight controllers were present at the airport. Of those three were on a break and two were in the radar room.

One of the controllers was a developmental controller who assumed the post in August, said COO of FAA's Air Traffic Organization Hank Krakowski.

But the controller-in-charge (CIC), although technically developmental in that role, has five years previous experience at Grand Forks airport in North Dakota and 10 months on the job at the Lehigh airport, notes Krakowski.

Yet the FAA official does admit that the agency is concerned the staffing "ended up in that configuration."

Later Krakowski told the committee: "We have some work to do to understand this whole picture."

NTSB is the lead agency investigating the incident.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news