Big Jets Bring Big Runway Issues, Will FAA Make Matters Worse?

by Frieda Flyer on April 12, 2011

in Commercial Air Travel

The mission of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Runway Safety is “To improve runway safety in the United States (U.S.) by decreasing the number and severity of surface incidents and runway incursions.”
In light of the recent runway incursion at John F. Kennedy International Airport on April 12 when the world’s largest commercial passenger jet, an Airbus A380 was involved in a runway incursion with a much smaller regional jet, the question arises if the FAA’s proposed waivers for super sized jets will increase the occurrences of runway incursions.

Fortunately, in this incidence, there were no injuries to the unknown number of passengers on The Air France Flight or to the 62 passengers and four crew members on the smaller Comair CRH 700 Regional Jet, which had just landed and was taxiing to the gate when it was struck by the A380 and spun around 90 degrees.  Both planes were towed to a ramp area for inspection of their damage.  The FAA is investigating how this incident could have happened.

Runway incursions are not new to the world of aviation with one of the most deadliest being in 1977 on the Canary Islands when two 747 collided, killing 583 people.  According to the FAA’s report on runway safety statistics from October, 2010 through March, 2011 showed a total of 462 incursions compared to 412 during the same period a year earlier.  That’s an increase of 50 incidents or 11%.  Now here comes jumbo sized planes to airports not necessarily designed or reconstructed to handle the excess size.

How much runway incursions will increase with the introduction of the new jumbo jets such as the A380 and the new Boeing 747-8 freighter is to be seen.  Air France at this time owns only  four A380s with delivery of more expected soon, so with only four – now three – in operation, so it’s too early to get an accurate expectancy on this aircraft.

It is questionable if  our airports capable of handling jets the size of a football field with a wing span that stretches wider than the width of that same field.  As a comparison, the Comair CRJ 700 is only a little over 76 feet wide and 106 long – certainly no match for the jumbos.

Soon the massive Boeing 747 will be flying into our existing airports.  Medium-size airports in Ohio, Illinois, and Alabama are asking the FAA for approval to receive these huge freighters in order to profit from the growing air cargo market which is growing faster than the passenger market. Air freight rose 10 percent last year while passenger service rose only 2 percent.  Has profit seeking won out over seeking safety at our airports?

Considered in Airplane Design Group VI – the largest class of airplanes, most U.S. airports legally can not  accommodate these planes due to FAA space requirements which seek to keep planes from hitting each other or airport structures while taxing.  HOWEVER, the FAA can issue a waiver if an airport agrees to some new procedures – such as promising to inspect a taxiway for any broken pavement or other debris every time a 747-8 taxiies past.

Say what??? If damage is expected if a 747-8 simply taxiies on a runway what on earth do they expect will happen when the thing takes off or lands?  What if the airport gets busy and there’s no time to check?  What are the dangers to other planes landing and taking off – and their passengers?

It’s hard for me to believe, but FAA has already approved waivers for 14 airports – including JFK – compared to only 3 waivers for the A380 – you know the airport and the plane that were just involved in the very incident the FAA space requirements sought to prevent.

Why would the FAA deem a situation possibly dangerous then approve waivers which would open the way to the very incidents they once sought to avoid?  Are they setting themselves up to ask  “how could this have happened” much more in the future?  What is the future safety risk to passengers and crew?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Airport Engineer February 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm

The author:
1. Does not know what a runway incursion is.
2. Does not know when an airplane is legally allowed to operate on an airport.
3. Does not understand how procedures are developed to accommodate large aircraft at airports that were not designed specifically for them.

In general, an astounding level of ignorance.


James T. Crouse June 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Sorry to hear of your criticisms.

We welcome your post straightening us out. Please tells us your definitions of “runway incursion,” or how we are wrong. When is am airplane legally allowed to operate on a public airport, or how were our comments on that subject in error? How are procedures developed to accomodate large aircraft that were not designed for them?

This is a safety blog, and we get something wrong, we would like to be corrected and enlightened.



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