Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Airport wrestles with runway danger

4 'incursions' set off search for ways to avoid on-ground hazards

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Four times since May, airplanes landing or taking off from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport have been involved in “incursions” — possible collision hazards on the runway — putting the airport on a key government list for the first time.

        None of the incidents resulted in collisions or injuries, and only two planes in the four incidents had to abort a landing or takeoff.

    Details of the four runway incursions that occurred at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport this year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration:

1. 5:40 p.m. May 1

   What happened: Comair Flight 5987 from Cincinnati to Grand Rapids, Mich., was instructed to taxi and hold for takeoff on Runway 27.
    Instead, it began its takeoff roll without clearance as incoming Comair Flight 5774 from Kalamazoo, Mich., was landing on crossing Runway 18 Right.
    Air Traffic Control instructed Flight 5987 to abort its takeoff, and Flight 5774 landed without incident.
    Classification: Pilot error.

2. 1:52 p.m. May 17

    What happened: A privately owned Astrojet trying to depart on Runway 18 Right took the takeoff clearance meant for another privately owned plane trying to depart on Runway 27.
    A third plane, a privately held Gulfstream, was making its final approach on 18 Right but had to abort its landing and restart the sequence.
    Classification: Pilot error.

3. 4:38 p.m. June 22

    What happened: A Comair crew asked for and was granted clearance to cross Runway 27 at Taxiway Echo to take a Comair plane back to the maintenance hangar. The plane instead started toward Runway 18 Right, where Flight 5332 from Evansville, Ind., was landing. The maintenance crew was instructed to stop in time for Flight 5332 to land without incident.
    Classification: Vehicle error.

4. 12:33 p.m. July 15

   What happened: Air Traffic Control cleared Comair Flight 5881 to Raleigh/Durham, N.C., to take off on Runway 27. ATC also cleared Comair Flight 9491 - a private charter - to land on intersecting Runway 36 Left. Both planes completed their operations safely, but came too close to each other, according to FAA regulations.
    Classification: Operational (or ATC) deviation or error.

        Before this year, the airport recorded a total of four incursions — one in 1997, two in 1998 and one in 1999. (The FAA began tracking incursions in 1997.)

        The rise concerns airport, airline and Federal Aviation Administration officials, who formed an incursion task force in August.

        “I don't know why these numbers are going up ... each incident is a separate occurrence,” said Dale Huber, the airport's deputy director of aviation. “But it's our job as a team to prevent this from happening again through a concerted effort.”

        Two of the four incidents involved pilot error, one was the fault of air-traffic controllers, and one was the fault of a maintenance crew, according to the FAA, which said Comair was involved in three of the four.

        The airport tied for 21st on the FAA's most recent list of those with the most incursions in the last 12 months. It has a relatively low rate of 0.82 incursions per 100,000 operations, with 487,751 total operations.

        North Air Terminal in Las Vegas had the highest number — 13 since Oct. 1, 1999 — and had the highest rate among major airports with 5.57 per 100,000 operations. Troutdale H5 Heliport outside Portland, Ore., had the highest rate overall with five in 77,526 operations, or 6.45 per 100,000.

        In two of the four incursions here, a pilot (private and commercial planes both were involved in incursions) mistook a call sign and took instructions meant for another plane.

        Comair and local air-traffic controllers aim to limit confusion over similar sounding flight numbers when they launch a new call sign procedure Thursday.

        “We have had conflicts with numbers sounding alike, such as 4027 and 5027,” said Ken Marshall, vice president for corporate safety for Comair. “This eliminates that.”

        The new system can assign a call sign number that differs from the one published in the public flight schedule.

        “There was a lot of room for confusion, and something we addressed,” said Randy Brindley, a Cincinnati air-traffic controller and vice president of the local union branch of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

        “There has been no finger-pointing at all. Instead, we're all trying to be proactive and identify the problem and fix it.”

        Runway incursions — when an aircraft is forced to change course by another aircraft, vehicle or object, or gets too close to another vehicle on a runway — have caused 63 deaths nationwide over the past decade.

        Officials with Comair, the FAA and the airport were reluctant to list reasons for the increase, saying each incident needs to be considered separately.

        But one possible link is the rise in daily flights at the airport. Comair, for example, flies 620 flights in and out of Cincinnati daily, up from about 540 last year.

        “I certainly think efforts to enhance capacity at all of the busy airports and increase capacity is putting strain on the system,” said Mitchell Serber, a Comair pilot who serves as central air safety chairman for the local Comair pilots' union.

        “And one area we're seeing the stress is in runway incursions. We're all trying to crowd into a finite area of concrete, but we can only handle so many departures and arrivals.

        “Until they build more runways, it's something that we're stuck with.”


- Airport wrestles with runway danger
Ballpark bonds to cost taxpayers less
Lindner awaits Amtrak payday
Democrats target blacks in get-out-the-vote effort
$750K to be spent for Ohio Issue 1
RADEL: Riverfront Park
Sounds of South go sour
Students lend time, talent to repair mural
Drug dealer sold meth to truckers, police say
Man, 64, accused of selling meth
Shirey advisers question ballpark logo
Annual sessions face hurdles
Anti-Resnick ad pulled, replaced
Chain store unwelcome on Main
Charges spark KKK probe
City Council likely to approve lower millage rate
City landmark being reborn
City race will make history
Florence examines possibilities
IRS to specialize center
Kidnapping case stays in stalemate
1963 killing in high court
Mediation cuts pupil fights 54%
Neighbors of bar complain
Pope to name St. Thomas More saint of poltics
Prosecutor candidates spar over dismissed cases
State Sen., challenger meet today
W. Va. governor, foe criticized for silence
Waynesville haunts sought
Winner requests trust
Woman accused of sex with teen
In the schools
Kentucky Education Notes
Kentucky News Briefs
Tristate A.M. Report