Macon-Bibb Fighting To Halt Suit Over Safety Of Airport Runway

July 07--Macon-Bibb County is fighting to block a lawsuit over the safety of a Macon Downtown Airport runway.

In the suit, filed June 5 in Fulton County, Old Republic Insurance Co. claims the city of Macon and a contractor ignored federal rules that would have prevented water from pooling up on the runway. A jet owned by Dewberry Air hydroplaned in September 2012, sliding off the runway and across Ocmulgee East Boulevard, crashing into trees.

This is the second suit filed by Old Republic, which paid out a $1 million as a result of the crash. The first suit, which had been filed in Bibb County, was dismissed.

In the latest suit, which added the city of Macon's contractor, Old Republic elaborates on claims made in its initial lawsuit. The insurance company says the city should have followed federal rules to slope the runway to the sides, allowing water to drain off.

The city of Macon owned the airport at the time of the crash. The city has since consolidated into the Macon-Bibb County government.

A day before the suit was filed in Fulton County, Macon-Bibb County lawyers had filed a motion in Bibb County Superior Court to prevent the suit. On June 24, lawyers sought an injunction in Bibb County to block the new case from proceeding. It wants a judge to declare the city has no obligation to add a slope to the runway.

Bibb County court records do not list a scheduled hearing. Macon is scheduled to file a response in the Fulton County case by Monday. Lawyers sought an immediate hearing and "expedited relief" in Bibb County to halt the Fulton County action.

If a court ruling "does not intervene to prevent redundant proceedings in separate forums, the City of Macon will suffer injury or damages," lawyers wrote. "... Injunctions to restrain a multiplicity of suits in such cases are not only permitted, but favored, by the courts."

Company's claims

Old Republic claims the city made several critical mistakes with the runway, particularly with the sloping. It cites FAA guidelines that say the runway should slope from the middle at a rate of 1 to 2 percent. On a 100-foot-wide runway, that would put the center of the runway a half foot, to a foot, above the edges, making water run to the sides.

Instead, the insurance company and a National Transportation Safety Board report cite a runway study that found part of the runway was sloped less than 0.5 percent and another part of the runway sloped only to one side.

Old Republic added the contractor, Robert and Company, to the lawsuit, saying the Atlanta firm wrongly resurfaced the runway in 2008.

That work cost $911,293, with the Georgia Department of Transportation paying $481,841, the Federal Aviation Administration paying $264,204 and the City of Macon paying $165,248 toward the work, according to the lawsuit.

Old Republic also said the runway was improperly marked. The work in 2008 narrowed the runway's width to 100 feet, but until last year it was still advertised as 150 feet wide, The Telegraph has found. The insurance company said the city also failed to put in runway safety areas, also called overruns.

The insurance company also included an affidavit from an airport engineer, who said Robert and Company failed to meet standards and "failed to exercise the standard of care required of civil engineers generally in undertaking the job of designing the runway overlay."

A NTSB report found other problems at the airport, including the failure of lights that guide airplanes to the correct landing spot.

The report suggested the airplane had touched down in about the right spot but may have been moving faster than the recommended speed, which would require more landing space.

Copyright 2014 - The Macon Telegraph

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