August 4, 2005
ALPA Statement on Airport Issues in the Air France Accident
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The following statement was issued today by the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l. (ALPA) regarding airport safety issues as they relate to the Air France accident in Toronto:
The crash of Air France Flt. 358 in Toronto occurred at an international airport that, unfortunately, does not meet international standards. It is the latest in a series of airline accidents that highlight the dangers of inadequate runway safety areas.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends that runways should have a defined “runway safety area” free of obstacles and extending well past the end of the actual runway. In the event that an aircraft is unable to stop normally before the end of the runway, a margin of safety must be maintained so that a slight overrun due to mechanical, weather, or other operational problems does not become a catastrophe.
Air France Flt. 358 is not the first aircraft to fall victim to inadequate runway safety areas, or even the first to be “stopped” by the ravine off the end of Toronto’s runways. In 1978, an Air Canada DC-9, following a rejected takeoff, overran what is now Runway 24R, hit the same ravine as did Air France Flt. 358, and broke into pieces. Two passengers died. The report from the Canadian government concluded that the ravine “contributed to a high casualty rate”.
ALPA has participated in the investigations of many accidents in the U.S. and Canada in which the number fatalities and injuries, or the level of damage, was magnified because of hazards at or near the ends of runways.
A B-737 in Charlotte, North Carolina was severely damaged, and passengers severely injured following a runway overrun in 1986. In its investigative findings, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that “contributing to the severity of the accident was the…concrete culvert located 318 feet from the…end of the runway.”
In 1989, another B-737 attempted a takeoff abort on runway 31 at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Later analysis would show that the aircraft could have stopped safely 190 feet past the end of the runway, well within the FAA and ICAO recommended runway safety areas. However, because the runway was operational before current standards were developed, only 129 feet separate the end of the runway from the East River. The aircraft went into the water and broke apart, killing one passenger. In its report to the NTSB, ALPA recommended that this runway, and all other runways, be compliant with appropriate U.S. and international standards. In that same report, we recommended that where real estate is not available to extend runway safety areas, an alternative would be “some sort of aircraft decelerative device at the end of the runway.”
In 1992, the severity of a takeoff accident at LaGuardia was increased and resulted in 27 fatalities when the aircraft impacted a pump house and structures supported by steel I-beams closer to the runway than the ICAO standards recommend. ALPA again was on record as recommending airports comply with stronger standards for runway safety.
Following the crash of an American Airlines aircraft in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1999, ALPA observed that “the runway…was not equipped with a safety overrun area in accordance with FAA guidance…and no requirement exists that will make…runway safety areas…adequate any time soon.” We warned, “that all runways without the minimum safety areas should be modified so that their overrun areas cannot severely damage an airplane overrunning the runway end.”
Solutions to this continuing problem vary from the simple to the complex. Removing obstacles and filling in ravines and culverts is frequently the most straightforward solution. In many instances, circumstances may prevent an apparently simple solution like this. In others, the physical space may simply not exist to have the recommended runway safety area. In these instances, the solution has already been developed, and has already successfully passed real-world tests in actual operation.
In 1999, a Saab 340B left the paved portion of the runway at New York’s Kennedy airport and traveled into the newly installed 600-foot strip of Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS). This installed safety system decelerated the aircraft in approximately 215 feet, resulting in only one minor injury. ALPA’s recommendation following that event was that the FAA “coordinate the efforts of manufacturers and the aviation industry in continuing to pursue current and new technology to provide that an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) be placed at all airports.” The same material was put to a much more severe test when it safely stopped a 747 freighter in January of this year.
EMAS has been shown to be an effective alternative to extending runways when circumstances prevent such extension. In 2001, ALPA worked with the managers of the Burbank, California airport. They knew they needed more runway, but faced strong opposition to a runway extension from the surrounding community. At ALPA’s suggestion, they installed EMAS and were able to improve the safety of the operation with the concurrence of their community.
There are dozens of airports in the U.S. and Canada, many of which service large metropolitan areas with large, international aircraft, that do not meet U.S. or international standards. Compounding the problem is the fact that certain international standards are not adequate, and they do not recommend solutions such as EMAS. ALPA, through its own direct efforts and in coordination with the London-based International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA) and other aviation organizations, will continue to work toward the goal of providing adequate overrun protection for all airport runways serving commercial air transport.
ALPA is the union that represents 64,000 airline pilots at 41 airlines in Canada and the U.S. Its website is at www.alpa.org.
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ALPA CONTACTS: John Mazor, Linda Shotwell, (703) 481-4440, firstname.lastname@example.org.