Steamboat Springs Officials with SkyWest Airlines are defending their pilots in the wake of a close call at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Saturday, when a United Express flight trying to land came within 300 or 400 feet of a smaller plane on the runway before turning abruptly to the right and climbing to avoid a collision.
SkyWest operates United Express flights to YVRA under contract with United Airlines.
"Our pilots acted appropriately in this instance," SkyWest spokeswoman Marissa Snow said Thursday. "Their quick and skillful response prevented a situation that could have been disastrous."
On Monday, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said the planes were put in the precarious situation because one of the SkyWest pilots told air traffic controllers that he was "on the deck" before the plane had actually landed. Ruppel said the air traffic controllers - located in Denver - cleared the smaller plane to take off thinking the United flight was on the ground.
Snow denied Ruppel's claims on Thursday and said she was surprised an airport manager would be so quick to assign blame.
"According to our reports, that's not the case," Snow said, "but we are conducting an internal investigation."
Federal Aviation Administration officials also have started an investigation.
"We have had discussions with FAA officials in Denver, and they have expressed interest," Ruppel said. "It's obviously a concern to everybody that's involved."
FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said the investigation still is under way and that more information might be available next week. Fergus said the scope of the investigation includes listening to taped radio transmissions and interviewing witnesses "to ascertain whether the proper protocols were performed."
Tapes of radio transmissions are not available to YVRA officials. Ruppel's account that a SkyWest pilot said, "I'm on the deck," is based on reports from Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting personnel at YVRA who monitor radio transmissions.
"That's what they heard on the Denver Center radio," Ruppel said.
In YVRA's own response to Saturday's incident, Ruppel said the airport is working to make pilots and airlines aware of their concerns. The airport is encouraging pilots to stay tuned in to YVRA's local UNICOM radio frequency while approaching or leaving the airport, even though pilots are not legally required to do so.
"We're all trying to do what we can to raise the awareness, especially around this airport," Ruppel said. "That's the best thing we can do from this type of incident."