Midway Accident Spotlights Short Runways at 300 Airports

Buffer zones or other safety measures are being demanded at hundreds of airports around the nation to give pilots a wider margin for error.


Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., sponsored the measure after several runway overruns at his home state's Teterboro Airport, near New York. Last February, a corporate plane carrying 11 people ran off the end of the Teterboro runway during an aborted takeoff, sped across a busy road and hit a warehouse. Twenty people were injured.

"My bill, which was signed into law last week by the president, will finally force these airports and the FAA to make these runways safer," he said Friday.

In June 1999, an American Airlines jetliner slid past the end of the runway in Little Rock, Ark., killing 11 passengers and injuring 86. And it was only the remarkable speed of the passengers' evacuation - less than two minutes - that prevented serious injury or death when an Air France Airbus skidded off the runway in Toronto and burst into flames in August.

Hall was NTSB chairman when a Southwest Airlines 737 overran a runway at Burbank Airport near Los Angeles, stopping within feet of a gas station. Burbank's runway is even shorter than Midway's at 5,800 feet.

But other safety experts said the length of the runway should not be used as a scapegoat in overrun accidents.

"It is not the runway length that's the issue," said Bernard Loeb, who was director of aviation safety at the NTSB during the mid-1990s. "Runways are either adequate or they're not."

Some pilots acknowledged that relatively short runways like Midway's pose a challenge in icy or snowy weather, forcing them to touch down as close as possible to the beginning of the runway to allow more braking time.

"The shorter the runway, the quicker you want to get it on the ground, especially landing on ice and snow," said Bert Yetman, a retired Southwest captain. "If you're not down in the first 1,000 feet or so, take it around and try it again."

Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aerospace engineering at Saint Louis University, likened landing at Midway in bad weather to landing on an aircraft carrier.

"You've got to stick it and brake like heck," Czysz said. "But poor visibility and any wind shear can make that tough to do."

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Associated Press Writer Leslie Miller contributed to this report from Washington.

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On the Net:

Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov

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