Crash of Flight 5191

Small plane nearly took off on short runway Nov. 9

A single-engine private plane had to abort its takeoff after it turned onto the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport earlier this month -- just days after the airport reopened the runway that was involved in the crash of Comair Flight 5191, according to a report filed by an air traffic controller.

Just before midnight on Nov. 9, a 1976 Piper Saratoga airplane was cleared to take off from Runway 22, the airport's main 7,000-foot runway, but instead turned onto the wrong runway, according to a report filed with NASA's Air Safety Reporting System.

The plane, which is registered to Williamson Aviation in Logansport, Ind., would have taken off from Runway 26, the airport's shorter, general aviation runway, if the controller hadn't caught the error and directed it to Runway 22 for departure, the report said.

"It was only after the controller working in the tower cab keyed up the radio and said 'wrong runway' that the aircraft aborted its takeoff ...," said Faron Collins, vice president of the Lexington National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "Luckily there were two people working that night, or this aircraft may have taken off from the wrong runway."

Laura Brown, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman, said it is unclear what happened during the incident.

"The controller believed that they were lined up on the wrong runway, but the place that the plane would have been at the time was on the way to the correct runway," Brown said.

Even if the pilot had lined up to take off from Runway 26, the seven-seat plane could have easily made a successful departure, Brown said. "It would have had enough runway length to take off on that runway. It was not like the Comair situation where that runway was too short for the plane."

Comair 5191 crashed on Aug. 27 -- killing 49 of the 50 people aboard -- after pilots mistakenly turned onto Runway 26, which at 3,500 feet long is too short for commercial planes. Flight 5191 was supposed to use Runway 22, the 7,000-foot main runway. The two runways intersect.

Immediately after the crash, some officials, including Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said Runway 26 should be closed permanently.

Runway 26 was closed for more than two months after the crash, with giant, lighted Xs placed at both ends of the runway. It re-opened Nov. 1 after the airport completed construction work to build a new taxiway to Runway 22.

Blue Grass Airport officials yesterday said they did not know about the Nov. 9 incident and are concerned that they weren't notified about it by any of the parties involved.

"Blue Grass Airport provides a safe and secure environment for the operation of aircraft," the airport said in a statement.

The statement added that a regular FAA inspection of the airport this week "confirmed the airport's compliance with the FAA's standards for signage and markings."

The Nov. 9 incident took place in the dark, just before midnight, when Runway 26 is supposed to be inoperative. Runway 26 is only used by general aviation planes during the day because it does not have lights.

There were two air traffic controllers on duty the night the Piper airplane took off, one in the control tower and one in the radar room, Brown said. The controller in the tower made the report, she said.

Only one air traffic controller was on duty at the time of the Comair crash even though FAA regulations said two controllers should have been working.

After the Comair crash, the FAA began staffing the tower with two controllers on overnight shifts, Collins said.

Initially, controllers were paid overtime, but the overtime was phased out, Collins said. Since controllers are no longer scheduled for an overtime shift, they are being pulled off other shifts so there are two controllers on overnight, he said.

The FAA also had a scheduling mistake on Nov. 19 when only one controller was scheduled to work between 10 and 11 p.m., Collins said. The mistake was caught and another controller was assigned to work overtime from 10 p.m. to 11:15 p.m.

Since 1993, pilots had inadvertently taxied to the wrong runway at Blue Grass at least two times before the crash of Comair 5191.

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