Canada to Require Safety Areas at End of Runways

TORONTO (AP) -- As investigators try to determine why an Air France jet skid off a Toronto runway and then burst into flames, Canada says it will soon require all its airports to have safety areas at the end of runways.

Air France Flight 358 landed at Lester B. Pearson International Airport amid heavy thunderstorms last Tuesday, skidding off the east-west runway some 200 meters (218 yards) and then slamming into a ravine.

Remarkably, none of the 309 passengers and crew members died, though at least 43 people were injured and several remained hospitalized Saturday.

Veronique Brachet, an Air France spokeswoman, said the pilot was still in a Toronto hospital with compressed vertebrae.

Meanwhile, a passenger has filed a class-action lawsuit against Air France, Toronto airport authorities and a Canadian private air navigation service, accusing them of negligence in the accident, the Toronto Star reported. The suit, filed Friday in Ontario Superior Court, asks for C$75 million (US$62 million; euro50 million). An Air France spokesman in Paris said the company has no comment on the suit.

The plane's flight data and voice recorders were found intact and investigators said they should have details within days to help them solve the reasons behind the late afternoon crash. There have been questions about whether the 9,000-foot (2,700-meter) runway is long enough and whether it's safe to have the ravine at the end of the runway.

Lucie Vignola, a spokeswoman for the federal transportation ministry Transport Canada, said a plan to soon require clear, nearly flat runway extensions is not a result of Tuesday's accident.

''The timing is interesting, I guess, but we've been looking at this for a few months - looking to see whether or not we needed to do this,'' Vignola said.

She said Transport Canada decided to go ahead with the plan after it became clear that international standards are shifting to require additional room at the end of runways. The department has not determined how long the safety areas would be, Vignola said.

The Air Line Pilots Association said Pearson doesn't meet international standards because it doesn't not have sufficient safe areas at the end of runways, including the one on which Flight 358 attempted to land.

''Overruns are more important when runways are not very long,'' said Capt. Tom Bunn, a retired commercial airline pilot of 30 years for Pan and United Airlines, who now runs fear-of-flying courses. ''This runway is not as long as what you find at most international airports, so the important of an adequate overrun is increased, and this accident is an example why.''

The gully at the end of Pearsons's runway 24L has long been a source of contention. A coroner's jury recommended filling in the gully, or extending a causeway over it, after a 1978 incident in which an Air Canada DC9 aborted takeoff and ended up in the gully, killing two passengers.

Steve Shaw, a spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said that after the 1978 accident, the gully was graded so the slope was not so severe, but it was not filled in.

Real Levasseur, chief of the Transportation Safety Board team investigating the craft, said Friday that it appeared the Airbus A340 came down too far down the runway.

''We do have some information that the aircraft did land long,'' Levasseur said at a news briefing. ''An aircraft like the 340 should land well toward the back; how long exactly depends on weight, heavy winds, there are a number of factors. We will certainly be looking at information; and if it turns out the aircraft did land further down the runway ... we will try to determine whether this had a major or critical effect.

Some aviation experts said the aircraft could have been pushed by a strong cross winds at the same time the aircraft landed on a slick runway, decreasing tire traction and causing a hydroplaning effect.

''I think they landed a little fast, a little long and probably hydroplaned,'' said Bunn.

In the class-action lawsuit filed Friday, the plaintiff accuses Air France, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and Nav Canada - a private civil air navigation service that provides airports weather and aeronautical information - of negligence in landing the Airbus A340.

The lawsuit names passenger Suzanne Deak of Toronto as the lone plaintiff, but the list of claimants is expected to grow. The suit was filed on behalf of all 297 passengers on board.

''We've got a bunch of people who have been hurt in some way and we know the passengers didn't cause the accident,'' Paul Miller, the lawyer for the plaintiff, told the Toronto Star. ''Chances are that all three defendants played a role in this accident.''

Deak escaped the plane with minor back and neck injuries, but her lawyer said she is struggling to cope with other effects of the crash.

''She is on medication for some psychological problems and she'll be seeing her chiropractor and her doctor in the next few days because of her back and neck injuries,'' said Miller.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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