Virginia Airport Runways Include 1,000-Foot Safety Margin

Could last week's deadly accident at Chicago's Midway Airport happen in this part of Virginia? Probably not.

Nearly 300 U.S. commercial airports, including Midway, lack the 1,000-foot margin at the end of the runway that the federal government recommends for safety reasons. But the airports in Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond are not part of that group.

The 6,522-foot runway where the accident happened ends about 82 feet from the barrier wall along the road. In this region, the airport runways are longer, provide more room for error and aren't as tightly bound by urban development.

"The conditions that exist at Midway do not exist at Norfolk," Wayne Shank said Monday. He is deputy executive director of Norfolk International Airport.

For the Norfolk airport, one 9,000-foot runway is used for commercial flights. It has the recommended 1,000-foot margin at each end, Shank said.

At the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, two runways with lengths of 8,003 feet and 6,524 feet are used by commercial jetliners. Each has a 1,000-foot margin at either end, according to airport spokeswoman Sarah Sager.

And in the state capital, the airport's two commercial runways have margins of at least 1,000-feet at each end, said Troy Bell, a spokesman for Richmond International Airport. One runway is 9,003 feet long; the other is 6,607 feet.

"A lot of it for us is you try to prevent poor surface situations from developing," Bell said, referring to snow removal crews.

In the Midway accident, investigators are looking at factors such as snow removal on the runway, as well as a delay in the Boeing 737-700's engine thrust-reversers.

For the 284 airports without the 1,000-foot runway margins, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends the installation of beds of light concrete that act like ramps for runaway trucks.

A recently passed federal law encourages more airports to install such beds or extend their runway margins; it requires them to do one or the other by 2015.

The Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.


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