United Express runway accident part of larger safety problem

Just a few hours ago, a United Express flight from Washington Dulles skidded of a runway in Ottawa, Canada, injuring three of the 36 people on board.

The CBC reports that the pilot might have landed too far down the runway for the breaks to stop the plane before reportedly losing the front wheel and sliding on to the grass. Weather might also have been a factor, as light rain had been reported since late morning. The NTSB is sending a team to help assist the Transportation Safety Board of Canada with its investigation.

The exact factors which caused this runway accident are unlikely to come to light for months when an investigation is finalized. But what is clear today is that this incident will be added to the year’s growing tally of runway safety accidents and incidents, what aviation safety experts call runway incursions. Technically this incident was a runway excursion, when a plane leaves the runway during takeoff or landing, and this is the type of runway-related incident that makes up about 97 percent of all runway safety accidents according to a 2009 Flight Safety Foundation study

The problem of runway excursions is so substantial that the NTSB added a recommendation to it’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements in 2007, as soon as it was issued. The NTSB wants the FAA to require all pilots to calculate an arrival landing distance assessment before every landing based on actual conditions expected at the time of landing, a la the rain at Ottawa’s airport today.

Evidence suggests that as air traffic grows, the number of runway incursions grow exponentially. As air traffic is expected to grow by an estimated 3 percent annually over the next few years. Suffice it to say this has experts, the Air Line Pilots Union, and the NTSB worried about runway accidents.  

Are you a pilot with a story to tell about an incursion? What do you think about the NTSB’s recommendation? Want to sound off on this issue? Leave us a comment or email Richard.Duchon@News21.com. And check out the other interesting stories we’re working on below.

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