It has been revealed that using the wrong runway, the error that led to the August crash at a Kentucky airport that killed 49 people, is fairly common. A top official of the Federal Aviation Administration made that disturbing observation recently. A search of 10 years of records by the FAA found 117 other cases in which the crew was confused. There have been at least two other incidents that occurred recently and are not included in the report.
In one of the incidents, a Continental Airlines Boeing 757 in Newark mistook a taxiway for the parallel runway and landed on it. The taxiway was empty, which is not always the case, and fortunately no damage resulted. A few days later, at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, an Alaska Airlines 737 took off on the wrong runway. Safety officials are now investigating whether the problem was confusion between the tower and the cockpit about which runway had been assigned.
In the Kentucky crash, which occurred on August 29th, a single taxiway led to both runways at the Lexington airport, but one runway was long enough for propeller traffic only and not for regional jets like the plane that crashed. According to aviation experts, to end up on the wrong runway, the crew would have had to ignore the heading indicator in the cockpit. That indicator shows, in compass degrees, which way the plane is pointed. As you may know, runways are named for their compass orientation.
For your information, it’s not easy to find prior incidents of runway confusion. To find the 117 cases, the FAA had to go through more than five million records, and it knew what it was looking for. The Lexington crash fits loosely into the category of runway safety, already a subject of grave concern in the industry. The National Transportation Safety Board lists protection against “runway incursion” as one of the “most wanted” safety improvements. The NTSB has declared unacceptable the FAA’s responses to its previous recommendations on that subject.
Runway incursion occurs when a plane, a vehicle, or a pedestrian strays onto a runway that has been assigned for use by another plane. The Lexington accident involved a single plane, so it did not strictly meet that definition. The Lexington accident and the incidents in Newark and Seattle, both now under investigation by the board, were “runway incursion-type things,” according to John Clark, the chief of aviation safety for the Board. Mr. Clark, who gives a less formal definition of runway incursion, says it’s when a pilot “was doing something he was not supposed to be doing” on the runway. That makes sense to me. Obviously, the problem becomes more serious as the number of takeoffs and landings increases such as would be the case at airports in large U.S. cities.
Hardware already on airliners could be used to make it harder for crews to pick the wrong runway, but this has been used only on wide-body jets. Airliners presently carry a system that uses global positioning to warn pilots if they are too close to the ground or heading into a mountain. The leading manufacturer of those units, Honeywell, is trying to sell a software upgrade that makes the system announce, in a mechanical voice, which runway the plane is on. The system knows the type of plane on which it is installed, and its approximate required length for takeoff. If the runway is too short, as it was in Lexington, the system makes announcements such as “3,000 feet remaining,” as a warning. But the system costs about $18,000 per plane, and the FAA does not require it.
Source: New York Times
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.