Pilots Should Confirm Runway is Correct, Say Safety Officials

Airline pilots should be required to follow specific procedures to make sure their airplane takes off on the right runway, federal safety investigators said this week.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommendation results from its investigation of an Aug. 27 plane crash at Lexington Blue Grass Airport in Kentucky.

In that accident, a Comair regional jet took off from a 3,500-foot runway instead of the 7,000-foot main runway where the aircraft was supposed to have been. Forty-nine of the 50 people aboard died when the plane failed to get airborne.

Although many airlines require pilots to cross-check their airplane’s heading before taking off, it is not a federal requirement.

The safety board said the Federal Aviation Administration should require airlines to “establish procedures requiring all crewmembers on the flight deck to positively confirm and cross-check the airplane’s location at the assigned departure runway.”

The recommendation indicates the NTSB is likely to find that the pilots’ actions were a probable cause of the crash.

Attention has been focused on understaffing at the control tower as a possible contributing factor to the accident.

The FAA had staffed the tower with one controller, but it was supposed to have had a second controller at the time of the crash.

Controllers catch pilots’ mistakes. The second controller, though, would have been watching the radar scope and not the runway, the FAA has said.

Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc., operates 850 flights to 108 cities daily. Both airlines filed for bankruptcy protection last year.