FAA reminds flight crews to know runways

HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITERMay 23, 2007 

— In the wake of the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a safety alert reminding flight crews of the procedures for taxiing and making sure they are on the right runway.

The alert cautioned against pilot distractions, unclear air-traffic control instructions, new airport layouts and construction.

The FAA alert reminded pilots to "confirm ... that the aircraft is actually positioned on the assigned runway by reference to the heading indicator."

While the alert did not mention Lexington by name, it mentions "the recent tragic accident of a commuter jet taking off from the wrong runway."

"It is important to note that many airports are involved in construction activities that result in changing environments," the alert said. "This heightens the importance of pilot vigilance.

"Even subtle distractions could demand a share of the pilot's workload, such as dealing with company procedures, passengers, running late and even personal issues," it said.

Blue Grass Airport repaved its longer runway just days before Flight 5191 crashed on Aug. 27 after attempting to take off from the wrong runway. The shorter runway it attempted to use, Runway 26, is 3,500 feet long and too short for the plane to achieve liftoff. The pilot should have taxied the plane to Runway 22, which is 7,000 feet long.

The pilot, flight attendant and 47 passengers were killed. The co-pilot, who was at the controls during takeoff, is in serious condition at University of Kentucky hospital.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said yesterday that the safety alert for operators, known as a SAFO, is "something we send out from time to time if there's a need to focus people's attention."

The SAFO reminded flight crews of what the FAA said are existing guidelines, according to the alert, sent by the Flight Standards Service in Washington, DC. SAFOs were introduced last year; this is the 13th this year.

It said the crew should:

• Review airport layouts and know airport signage as part of preflight planning

• Review what are called Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) before taxiing

• Have a current airport diagram available during taxiing and check the assigned route against it

• Write down complex taxi instructions and request progressive taxi instructions from the air-traffic controllers when unsure of the route

• If there is more than one crew member, make sure both fully understand taxi clearances and runway assignments

• The pilot who is taxiing should have his full attention focused outside the aircraft while the other pilot monitors the airport diagram and guides the taxiing pilot.

• Identify and resolve conflicting perceptions of air-traffic control instructions

• Confirm proper execution of the instructions

And ultimately: "Use all available resources to ensure the aircraft is positioned on the proper runway."

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