David Learmount/LONDON

Three Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Boeing MD-80s came close to a multiple collision at Oslo Gardemoen Airport on 8 March, endangering the lives of over 300 passengers and crew. The incident is being investigated by the airline and the aviation authorities, according to SAS' chief pilot for the MD-80 fleet, Capt Sven Oddli.

The episode unfolded as one MD-80 was cleared to take off on the 3,600m (11,800ft)-long runway 01L, while another - having just landed - was backtracking at the upwind end of the same runway. Finally, an MD-80 on approach was ordered to go around and conflicted with the aircraft that took off over the backtracking aircraft.

Communications confusion between air traffic controllers and the pilots, combined with a limited visibility of 2km (1nm), appears to have triggered the incident, which happened in daylight.

Gardemoen normally operates two parallel runways, but runway 01R was closed because of snow. The MD-80 inbound from Trondheim landed and was asked to clear the runway at exit A7 - about two-thirds of the runway length from the threshold - but was going too fast. After reducing speed, the captain elected to turn and backtrack to A7.

Meanwhile, the second MD-80 took off for Bergen, clearing the backtracking aircraft by about 150ft (50m) vertically, says Oddli. At that point an MD-80 inbound from Copenhagen was ordered to go around. Oddli says it appears to have come within 900ft vertically and 2.7km horizontally of the Bergen-bound aircraft, although a source says there was no horizontal separation.

The task of the inquiry is to clarify the nature of the communication breakdowns. The pilot of the backtracking aircraft claims he stated his intention, but it is unclear whether ATC acknowledged.

The controller says the Bergen-bound aircraft had been ordered more than once to abandon its take-off run before the inbound aircraft was told to go around.

Source: Flight International