Mix of big, small jets a hazard at busy airports

A Delta regional jet is seen at Boston Logan Airport July 14, 2011 after it was clipped by the wing of a Delta 767 jumbo jet. One person suffered a minor injury.

The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation Friday of a collision at Boston's Logan International Airport. It happened early Thursday night on a taxiway, when the wing of a Delta jumbo jet clipped the tail of a smaller regional jet.

None of the nearly 300 people on board the two planes was seriously injured, but both aircraft were damaged.

"We're gonna have to wait here for a moment," one of the pilots of the larger jet told air traffic control in recordings obtained by CBS News. "I think we hit the RJ off of our left with our wing."

Controller: "Let's see, 4904, that's the one? You're second? Did he hit you in the tail with his wing?"

The reply from a regional jet pilot: "Absolutely, he did."

Jumbo clips small jet at Boston airport; 1 hurt
Jets collide on Boston taxiway

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley asked CBS News aviation and safety expert Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger -- the pilot of U.S. Airways' "Miracle on the Hudson" flight -- for some insight.

Pelley: Tell me how the air traffic has changed at our airports in the last few years.

Sullenberger: It's grown, and the ratio of large to smaller jets has changed. Many people don't realize that now over half of all scheduled airline departures in the United States are flown by regional planes

Pelley: The other issue of course is that a lot of our airports were built 50 years ago. Cities have grown up around them, but the airports haven't been able to expand. Is that a problem?

Sullenberger: It is. Especially the northeastern United States. They're physically constrained and there literally isn't room to provide more separation between taxiways and runways. We're stuck with the airport designs that we've had for generations.

Pelley: Give me some insight that you know so well about driving one of these great big aircraft around, especially with all of these smaller regional jets on the airfield.

Sullenberger: Well it's harder than you might think. The physical size of these large airliners itself is a challenge. For example, in many large airplanes, the pilots cannot see their own wingtips from the cockpit windows -- they're too far back. On a large airliner, the wingtips may extend 40 or 50 feet beyond the edges of the taxiways.

  • Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"