Plows on Runway as Jet Departs - FAA probing incident at Kennedy : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

03/08/2001 - Thursday

Plows on Runway as Jet Departs FAA probing incident at Kennedy

by Sylvia Adcock Staff Writer

A Palm Beach, Fla.-bound jetliner took off from a Kennedy Airport runway Tuesday afternoon while five snowplows were removing snow at the other end, in a communications mixup that could have been deadly.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, which occurred about 1:45 p.m. when the pilot of JetBlue Flight 51 radioed the air traffic control tower shortly after taking off and asked controllers if they were aware that men and equipment were doing snow removal on the runway.

"When you look at what possibly could have happened...if the vehicles were farther down the runway, it could have been disastrous," said Barrett Byrnes, a Kennedy controller and the local head of the controllers' union.

"Obviously when an event like this takes place, we take it seriously," said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

JetBlue spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said the Airbus 320 cleared the plows by nearly 1,000 feet vertically, but Byrnes said he was told the aircraft was only 600 to 800 feet above the equipment.

Officials from JetBlue and the FAA stressed that the aircraft was in no danger because the plows were so far down the runway, but the incident raises the specter of the deadly crash of a Singapore Airlines jet in Taipei, Taiwan, on Oct. 31. In that case, the aircraft turned onto the wrong runway as it began its takeoff in a driving rainstorm with little visibility, smashing into runway construction equipment and killing 81 people.

The incident Tuesday occurred on Kennedy's Runway 31 Left. Byrnes said the snow removal crews told the control tower that they planned to plow Runway 31 Left after taking a lunch break, but apparently did not notify the tower when they brought their equipment back on.

Officials of The New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which runs the airport, declined to comment.

With light snow falling, visibility was about one mile, and the controllers weren't able to see the far end of the runway. Byrnes said that a larger aircraft such as a Boeing 747, which needs more room to take off, might have crashed into the equipment.

The 14,500-foot runway is the longest at Kennedy and longer than most commercial airport runways. The JetBlue flight started its takeoff roll just beyond where the runway intersects with Runway 22 Right. JetBlue officials said the Airbus lifted off the ground about 4,500 feet into the takeoff roll, well before the area where the snowplows were working.

The FAA classifies such events as runway incursions, and such incidents are considered to be a serious safety problem nationwide. Last year, despite intensified efforts by the FAA, the agency recorded 429 runway incursions, up from 321 in 1999. The vast majority involve close calls between two aircraft.

Of last year's 429 incidents, 84 involved close calls between an aircraft and a vehicle or pedestrian on the runway.

So far this year, 66 runway incursions have been recorded nationwide, with 11 of those involving vehicles or pedestrians.

This year, Kennedy is expected to get a new collision warning system that would alert controllers when a vehicle or another aircraft is on a runway when another plane is about to land or take off. Byrnes said that if the new equipment had been installed, it would have sounded an alarm as the JetBlue flight was preparing to take off.

-- Doris (, March 09, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ