"You're Gonna Need A Longer Runway"

Just when you thought it was safe to land on that rain-slick runway, the FAA may be about to change the rules. A formal FAA document, published in the Federal Register on June 7 and labeled an "advance notice of policy statement," says the agency on June 30 will issue a revision to existing policy governing turbojet operators and the landing distances they require. The change in policy stems from December 2005's landing overrun accident at Chicago's Midway Airport, involving a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and a fatality, the carrier's first. As a result of that accident -- helped along, no doubt, by the NTSB -- the FAA says it conducted an internal review of regulations, orders, notices, advisory circulars, ICAO and foreign country requirements, airplane manufacturer-developed material, independent source material and the current practices of air carrier operators to develop its new policy. And what does that policy say? Just this: "No later than September 1, 2006, turbojet operators will be required to have procedures in place to ensure that a full stop landing, with at least a 15% safety margin beyond the actual landing distance, can be made on the runway to be used, in the conditions existing at the time of arrival, and with the deceleration means and airplane configuration that will be used." In other words, according to the FAA, "absent an emergency, after the flightcrew makes this assessment using the air carrier's FAA-approved procedures, if at least the 15% safety margin is not available, the pilot may not land the aircraft." To implement the policy change, the FAA will issue mandatory OpSpec/MSpec C082, "Landing Performance Assessments After Dispatch," for all turbojet operators. The FAA says all "turbojet operators shall be brought into compliance with this notice and [its requirements] no later than October 1, 2006." The new OpSpec/MSpec C082 will be available from the FAA by June 30. 2006.

The policy change comes after the FAA's internal review revealed several issues. Among them:

  • Fifty percent of the operators surveyed do not have policies in place for assessing whether sufficient landing distance exists at the time of arrival.
  • Not all operators who perform landing distance assessments at the time of arrival have procedures that account for runway surface conditions or reduced braking action reports.
  • Many operators who perform landing distance assessments at the time of arrival do not apply a safety margin to the expected actual (unfactored) landing distance. Those that do are inconsistent in applying an increasing safety margin.
  • Some operators have developed their own contaminated runway landing performance data or are using data developed by third party vendors. In some cases, these data are less conservative than the airplane manufacturer's data for the same conditions.
  • Credit for the use of thrust reversers in the landing performance data is not uniformly applied and pilots may be unaware of these differences. In one case, the FAA found differences within the same operator from one series of airplane to another within the same make and model.
  • Airplane flight manual (AFM) landing performance data are determined during flight-testing using flight test and analysis criteria that are not representative of everyday operational practices.
  • Wet and contaminated runway landing distance data are usually an analytical computation using the dry, smooth, hard surface runway data collected during certification. Therefore, the wet and contaminated runway data may not represent performance that is achieved in normal operations.
  • Manufacturers do not provide advisory landing distance information in a standardized manner. However, most turbojet manufacturers make landing distance performance information available for a range of runway or braking action conditions using various airplane deceleration devices and settings under a variety of meteorological conditions.
  • Manufacturer-supplied landing performance data for conditions worse than a dry smooth runway is normally an analytical computation based on the dry runway landing performance data, adjusted for a reduced airplane braking coefficient of friction available for the specific runway surface condition.
Tape released of plane crash that killed NWI boy

Pilots speculated they might crash through Midway fence

This story ran on nwitimes.com on Wednesday, June 21, 2006 12:50 AM CDT


The cockpit transcript
During the flight, the pilots wrestled with the question of how they would land in bad weather at Midway, even considering other airports, according to the recording.
They even talked about crashing through the fence at Midway if their automatic brakes failed.
"No procedure if that sucker fails when you touch down?" co-pilot Steven Oliver said. "We just go through the fence? We never talk about any of that stuff, ya know?"
The recording revealed the unfolding drama in the cockpit as the plane skidded toward a fence.
"Son of a (expletive)," Capt. Bruce Sutherland said.
"Jump on the brakes, are ya?" Oliver said.
"Get that back there," Sutherland said moments later. "We ain't goin', man."
The pilots then told each other to "hang on" just seconds before the airplane crashed through the fence.


Times Staff and Wire Reports

Southwest Airlines pilots received differing reports on runway conditions as they approached Chicago's Midway airport, where their jet left a runway, ran through a fence and burst onto a Chicago street.

Six-year-old Joshua Woods, of Leroy, Ind., was killed in the Dec. 8 crash when the Boeing 737 crushed his family's car.

A cockpit transcript, released Tuesday, shows the pilots knew they might run out of runway before they could stop the plane and even speculated it might crash through the fence.

The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into procedures for landing at short or slippery runways as a result of the accident.

The transcript offered few surprises, said Donald Schlyer, attorney for the Woods family. He said it has already been established that the runway was short, conditions were slippery and the weather bad.

"The one thing they didn't address was action of the thrust reversers. They were either implemented late or failed to function. It will be interesting to see what happens," he said.

He said the family, which has moved from Indiana to Illinois, is still traumatized by what happened.

Every holiday spent without Joshua brings with it emotional anguish.

"Father's Day was rough," Schlyer said.

He said the family traveled back to Indiana to attend church this past Sunday. "They've had good support from their friends in the church," he said.

Six months after the loss of Joshua, they are still trying to put their lives together, Schlyer said.

"It's a pretty horrific event ... It's devastating to lose a child. Jacob, the brother closest in age to Joshua, still wakes up with nightmares and continues to draw pictures of his brother," he said.

During Tuesday's safety board hearing, officials were told that there is no single, reliable way to measure a runway's slickness in bad weather, making it hard for pilots to figure out how much room they need to land.

Fifty-two minutes before the Boeing 737 touched down at Midway, the pilots were told runway conditions were "fair," with snow-covered taxiways. Nine minutes before touchdown, they got a report that conditions were "fair," except at the end, where they were "poor." Five minutes later, they were told conditions were "good" for the first half of the runway, "poor" for the second. And one minute before touchdown -- at 7:13 p.m. -- they were told conditions were "fair to poor."

The pilots knew they couldn't land safely in poor conditions because there was a 9 mph tailwind; tailwinds of nearly 6 mph are Southwest's upper limit for a safe landing in poor conditions. Southwest now requires pilots to use the more restrictive condition when calculating how much room they need to land.

The Federal Aviation Administration also set stricter standards for landings by passenger jets, starting Oct. 1. Pilots will have to add 15 percent to the length of runway they think they need to land safely.

The FAA also has given a $15 million grant to Midway to build soft concrete beds that can slow airplanes that overshoot runways. The Midway runway, like many others at commercial airports in the United States, does not have a 1,000-foot buffer zone at the end for airplanes that overshoot their landings.

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