October 2, 2007
Pilots Need Better Information to
Operate on Runways in Winter
Midway accident highlights need for swift action to provide clear and timely reporting
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Sunshine Meeting on the Southwest Airlines 1248 runway overrun at Chicago’s Midway Airport highlights many of the major air safety priorities of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA). The Board’s action is encouraging, but only if it leads to change.
“We need to learn from the Midway tragedy and take every action possible to prevent future accidents like it,” says Capt. Terry McVenes, executive air safety chairman of ALPA. “While we recognize that the federal law requires the NTSB to identify a probable cause, the Board’s recommendations demonstrate that a range of causal factors contributed to the Midway accident. Now we must work to take critical steps forward to enhance safety.”
ALPA is once again forced to state publicly that a single probable cause philosophy assigns blame rather than advances safety. Instead, an investigation based on a system-wide approach to identifying the “why” behind the accident is essential to preventing similar accidents from happening again.
“Winter is not far away, and snow, ice, and slush will soon pose safety hazards at airports across our nation,” comments McVenes. “Every airport must comply with federal guidelines to clear airport runways, taxiways, and high-speed turn offs quickly and effectively.” In addition to making aircraft braking more difficult, snow and other contaminants obscure runway touchdown markings that provide valuable guidance to pilots.
“Pilots need to know the condition of runways in terms that mean the same thing to every pilot,” continues McVenes. “Incredibly, we don’t yet have a reliable and repeatable way to measure the condition of a runway, especially in dangerous circumstances such as standing water, slush, and wet snow.”
Pilot braking action reports are subjective and vary from pilot to pilot and aircraft type to aircraft type. In addition, descriptions of the contaminant type—such as snow or slush—are also subjective and lack standard defined terminology. ALPA strongly concurs with the NTSB’s actions and recommendations in this area.
ALPA supports the NTSB’s recommendations regarding the development of arrival landing distance assessments based upon current runway conditions, approved performance data, and the associated aircraft’s braking ability. This should provide flight crews with an effective tool to better determine whether they can safely execute the landing.
Currently, manufacturers are required to provide landing performance data for only dry surfaces based on actual flight tests. For other than dry surface conditions, performance data is derived mathematically. For those aircraft that have derived data, current regulations do not require this information to be provided to pilots. “We need performance data based on actual flight tests to know how our aircraft will stop in all runway conditions,” says McVenes.
In the event that an aircraft is unable to stop normally before the end of the runway due to mechanical, weather, or other operational problems, a runway safety area (RSA) serves as the last line of defense to prevent catastrophe. The NTSB’s deliberations indicate that the FAA is actively working toward upgrading all identified airport runway safety areas, recognizing that some RSAs may still fail to meet federal standards. “Runway safety areas have proven their worth time and again and could have mitigated this event,” continues McVenes. “Unbelievably, many U.S. airports still fail to meet federal standards that require an adequate runway safety area.”
Founded in 1931, ALPA represents 60,000 pilots at 41 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at http://www.alpa.org.
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ALPA CONTACTS: Pete Janhunen, Linda Shotwell, Molly Martin, 703-481-4440