On February 19, 2009, at 1440 Eastern standard time, an operational error occurred at Tampa Terminal Radar Approach Control (TPA TRACON) that resulted in a loss of required separation between AirTran Airways flight 808 (TRS808) and Berry Aviation flight 510 (BYA510). TRS808 was operating as a scheduled 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 121 passenger flight between Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Tampa International Airport (TPA). BYA510 was operating as a 14 CFR part 135 air taxi flight from MacDill AFB (MCF), Tampa, Florida, to Jacksonville Naval Air Station (NIP), Jacksonville, Florida. BYA510 departed southbound from MCF beneath the final approach course for runway 36 at TPA. The pilot was erroneously cleared to climb to 5,000 feet in an area where local procedures required that aircraft level at 1,600 feet in order to avoid conflicts with aircraft landing at TPA. BYA510 passed about 300 feet directly below TRS808 after the pilot of TRS808 responded to a Traffic Collision Alerting System (TCAS) resolution advisory directing a climb to resolve the conflict. There were no injuries or damage reported to either aircraft. Following the incident, TRS808 landed uneventfully at TPA and BYA510 continued its flight to NIP.

1. History of Flight

Just before the time of the incident, TRS808 was on a right downwind routing for the instrument landing system (ILS) approach to runway 36L at TPA. BYA510 was on the ground at MCF preparing to depart. At 1936:57, MCF tower requested and received a release for BYA510 from TPA. At 1939:25, BYA510 contacted TPA level at 1,600 and heading 190. The TPA controller instructed the pilot to ident and cleared him to climb to 5,000. The pilot acknowledged. At 1939:53, the controller transmitted, "Berry 510 is radar contact two south of MacDill." According to recorded radar data, the conflict alert system activated at 1939:54, indicating a traffic conflict between BYA510 and TRS808. At 1939:58, the controller advised BYA510 of, "…traffic passing just above you there uh maintain 1,600 descend and maintain 1,600." The pilot did not respond. At 1940:24, the controller instructed BYA510 to make a "quick turn" to heading 090, and the pilot acknowledged. At 1940:59, the controller again instructed BYA510 to descend and maintain 1,600. The pilot acknowledged, and descended to 1,600 feet. Review of recorded TPA radar data indicates that the two aircraft passed each other nearly head-on, with zero lateral separation and about 200-250 feet of vertical separation.

According to information provided by Berry Aviation from the pilot in command of BYA510, the aircraft departed MCF uneventfully and leveled at 1,600 feet as required by their departure clearance. Shortly afterward, the controller cleared the pilot to climb to 5,000 feet. The aircraft began climbing, with the aircraft passing in and out of clouds, when the first officer (pilot flying) leveled off again and verbally noted that a Boeing 737 had just passed overhead. The controller then directed BYA510 to descend and maintain 1,600. The pilot did so. The controller subsequently instructed the pilot to turn east and again repeated the instruction to descend to 1,600. The pilot did so. There were no traffic calls or other advisories about the 737.

A report submitted by the crew of TRS808 stated, "…Shortly after receiving intercept heading of 340 and cleared for the ILS 36L approach at 2,600 feet, [we] recognized a target on the TCAS on our course 600 feet below us. The RA then alerted the traffic followed by climb instructions. [The pilot flying] disengaged the autopilot and complied with the TCAS RA instructions. We climbed to 3,000 feet and after we were clear of conflict I notified ATC of the climb, current altitude, and the RA. ATC then re-cleared us for the approach. We continued the approach and landing on 36L in KTPA without incident."

The controller involved in the incident entered on duty with the FAA in 1987. After completing initial training, he was assigned to Tallahassee Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and Jacksonville ATCT before coming to TPA in 2001. He completed training at TPA in 2002. Review of his training records showed a previous operational error that occurred on April 7, 2008, involving loss of wake spacing between two aircraft on final approach to TPA.

The controller stated that he was aware of the configuration of Tampa airport throughout his session. When MCF called for release on BYA510, he was unable to immediately locate the strip at his position. To locate the strip, he looked at the flight data displayed at the "L" and "P" positions without success. He checked around his control position again and located the strip in the "deadwood" (discarded) strips. He noted that the pilot was requesting 10,000 feet, which is an altitude that TPA tries not use along the pilot's requested route of flight because it conflicts with arrival traffic. He mentally decided to change the cleared cruise altitude to 8,000 feet. He was back at the position when BYA510 checked in. He told the pilot to "ident" and climb to 5,000 feet. The pilot acknowledged. He scanned the radar display, looked back at BYA510, and noted that the data tag was overlapping the tag of another aircraft. He realized that there was a conflict, but it took him "a couple of seconds" to identify the relationship between the two aircraft and take action to resolve it. He wanted to make sure that he didn't issue an instruction that put the two aircraft back together. He does not recall seeing the conflict alert activate. He issued a traffic call to BYA510 and instructed the pilot to descend to 1,600 feet. The controller noted another conflict with an aircraft on left downwind for TPA and instructed BYA510 to turn east to avoid it. Shortly afterward, he repeated the instruction to descend to 1,600. Once the conflicts were resolved, he handed BYA510 off to the "L" sector, who passed the aircraft through to the "B" sector (east departure.) The controller immediately notified the supervisor on duty of the incident, and was relieved from the position shortly afterward.

The controller stated that heading 190 is used for all MCF runway 22 departures regardless of on course heading or TPA airport configuration. Aircraft are typically left at 1,600 feet and turned east or west until they clear the TPA final approach course and then climbed when clear of traffic.

The controller had no specific suggestions for improvements in facility procedures to prevent a reoccurrence of this type of incident. He was fully aware of the TPA configuration and airspace boundaries in effect at the time. The controller noted that he had worked the position several times earlier in the shift when TPA was on a south flow, and that under those conditions climbing BYA510 to 5,000 feet would have been correct and appropriate. The conditioning from these earlier sessions may have led to the momentary lapse that occurred.

Asked about possible changes to departure headings to limit the possibility of head-on traffic conflicts between MCF departures and TPA traffic, The controller noted that there were various other conflicts that could result from changing the existing procedures such as conflicts with aircraft on downwind for runways 36L/R.

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