NTSB announces safety recommendations to be made in aftermath of Comair Flight 5191 disaster

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

The American National Transportation Safety Board has announced that it will make new airline safety recommendations. This comes a result of its investigation into the Comair Flight 5191 disaster, in which a Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) CRJ-100ER crashed whilst attempting take-off from the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, killing 49 people and leaving just one survivor. The plane was unable to take off because that runway was too short.

The NTSB has now announced that, on July 26, the date on which the NTSB is to determine the probable cause of the accident, they will issue safety recommendations regarding methods of preventing a recurrence of the disaster.

One of the recommendations will concern developing and implementing a cockpit-based system that will inform pilots when they are in the wrong location. Another will involve rescheduling the workloads of Air Traffic Controllers to ensure they receive more sleep, a request they had previously made in April.

Regarding location warning systems, the FAA has pointed out that they have been working on methods of preventing runway incursions (in which a person, ground vehicle or another aircraft is on the runway when or where it should not be), to which the National Transportation Safety Board chairman Mark Rosenker responded "The FAA is doing a great job testing these systems. The question we have is, when will you finally implement that technology?" FAA Associate Administrator Margaret Gilligan responded by saying that they were currently looking at just such a system, adding "We do have airlines that have committed to put that technology on the flight deck once it's approved". The system referred to involves runway signal lights and is currently being tested at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The NTSB will also look at runway and taxiway markings and the ways they can confuse pilots, as this issue has been identified as a contributing factor in the accident. Rosenker said the NTSB was "very interested" in this area. 140 airports have unclear or confusing markings in the US, but it is not certain if Blue Grass Airport is one of them. However, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) made a submission to the NTSB stating that they had found that the markings at Blue Grass Airport did not match those on the charts the pilots were using. ALPA went on to recommend greater standardisation of airport runway markings.

Blue Grass Airport responded yesterday by saying that there was nothing wrong with their runway markings, with spokesman Brian Ellestad saying "We have had numerous inspections before and after (the Comair crash) and have had no issues... FAA reiterates that we meet all requirements for signage, markings, lighting, runways and taxiways."

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