NTSB fears runway blunders

HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITERAugust 28, 2006 

The National Transportation Safety Board has long been concerned about "runway incursions" and "pilot deviations" -- code words for runway blunders that can have catastrophic results.

Runway incursions often involve two planes colliding on the ground. More rarely, they involve planes taking off from or landing on the wrong runway.

The federal board issued a warning about such problems in 1986, repeated it in 2000 and has posted the warning on its Web site every year since.

An analysis of NTSB reports shows several cases in which pilots inadvertently used the wrong runway:

• On Oct. 31, 1979, in Mexico City, Western Air Lines Flight 2605 was cleared for landing on runway 23R, because parallel runway 23L was closed for refurbishing work. The DC-10 plane touched down in heavy fog on the wrong runway, struck the cab of a parked excavator, careened into a building and caught fire. Of the 88 people on board, 72 died.

• On two occasions in 1989, pilots took off from the wrong runway at Houston's William P. Hobby Airport. On Jan. 10 and March 23, planes were cleared to take off on runway 12 Right, but instead took off on runway 17, which was closed because of construction. Both planes suffered minor damage and made it to their destinations safely.

• On Dec. 3, 1990, in Detroit, a Northwest Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 collided near a runway intersection when the DC-9 made a wrong left turn. The investigation showed faded or nearly invisible taxi lines on the airfield.

• On Oct. 31, 2000, the pilot of Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 006 mistakenly attempted to take off on a closed runway in Singapore in heavy rain. The Boeing 747 plowed into construction equipment and burst into flames. Of the 179 passengers, 83 died.

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