Crash of Flight 5191

Comair warns pilots runway signs outdated

Comair has warned its pilots to use extreme caution at Blue Grass Airport because “published airport diagrams do not accurately reflect actual airport signage and markings.”

Comair’s flight standards department issued the warning Friday after the airline received updated charts that contained inaccuracies, said Nick Miller, a Comair spokesman. Steve Briner, Comair’s chief pilot, also e-mailed the warning to several pilots.

Miller said he did not know what was inaccurate about Blue Grass’s updated charts. The purpose of Briner’s e-mail was to make sure that pilots got the information as quickly as possible because “it’s the responsible thing to do,” Miller said.

Brian Ellestad, spokesman for Blue Grass Airport, said he was unaware that Comair had issued the warning.

In August -- a week before the crash of Comair Flight 5191 -- Blue Grass Airport repaved its runway and closed the taxiway connection that planes normally used to reach the main runway. Information regarding changes in signage, markings or construction work at Blue Grass have been published to pilots through “Notices to Airmen,” known as NOTAMs, Ellestad said.

NOTAMs are attached to pilots’ flight release information, and can be accessed by tuning into a radio frequency to get recorded messages from the air control tower, Ellestad said.

Comair’s warning was issued two weeks after Flight 5191 crashed, killing 49 of the 50 people on board. The plane took off from the wrong runway, a general aviation strip that was too short for the regional jet.

Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said that, before Friday, Comair’s chart of Blue Grass hadn’t been updated since Jan. 27. “Those charts are updated any time there is a significant change to the airport facility,” Marx said.

The charts are created by the National Aeronautical Charting Office, a branch of the Federal Aviation Administration. They are provided to Comair through a private vendor.

The Comair warning contained two notes regarding Blue Grass Airport.

The first, prefaced with “warning,” is to be given to all Comair pilots flying into or out of Blue Grass.

“If unsure of position or taxi clearance clarify with ATC (Air Traffic Control) or request progressive taxi instructions,” the warning note said. Progressive instructions are step-by-step instructions from the tower to the pilot.

The second note, which is to be included on all Comair Lexington departure information until further notice, instructs pilots to back up to the end of the runway markings on the airport’s main 7,000-foot runway (known as Runway 22).

Marx said the notes were added to pilot dispatches -- pages of information pilots pick up before beginning a flight -- on Friday. Marx described the warning as part of the airline’s routine communications for pilots.

Stan Chesley, a Cincinnati attorney representing the family of JoAnn Wright, who was killed in the crash, said he found it outrageous that Comair would put the warning out now.

“You talk about closing the door after the horses get out,” said Chesley.

U.S. District Court Judge Karl Forester yesterday entered an order allowing investigators for Wright’s family to inspect the plane’s wreckage. Forester also ordered Comair to retain all records related to Flight 5191.

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