Plane collision at SFO highlights safety problems

A United Airlines Boeing 757 and a Skywest commuter jet with 60 people on board collided on a runway late Sunday at SFO. Both airplanes suffered serious damage to their tail sections, but supposedly no injuries were reported.

SkyWest Airlines is basically a Canadian owned commuter subsidiary carrier of United operating United Express flights. In May of last year a SkyWest jet almost collided with another jet at SFO on the runway, an “incursion” that ranked amongst the 4 most dangerous in the US last year.

SFO has been lucky overall in a lack of fatal accidents, especially when considering it’s low safety rating. In August an FAA safety investigation was announced after a high number of “runway incursions” (aka near-misses) and a comparative high number of incidents in which pilots were confused while taxiing.

A spokesflack for the FAA quoted in the NY Times called the incident rare and claimed “There doesn’t appear to be any underlying safety issue here.”

Yeah, right…


More after the jump…

In 2000-2003 the San Francisco airport had 15 reported “Runway Incursion” incidents on runways, but no collisions. This rate averaged about 1.3 incidents per 100,000 “operations” at the airport in 2000, slightly less in lighter traffic years that followed

In October of 2007, the FAA released its most recent findings after the Associated Press reported that the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, was withholding its own findings about runway safety for various political reasons including to avoid upsetting travelers and affecting airline profits.

The airfield obtained millions in federal funding & began work work to expand it’s runways last year, and did basic improvements like painting new divider lines…

2 Comments so far

  1. Wayne (unregistered) on January 15th, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

    Runway incursions are not necessarily "near misses". In fact, most runway incursions are NOT near misses at all.

    Here’s an official definition (i.e., the one that must be met in order for the FAA stat you quoted to be incremented): A runway incursion is "Any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take off of aircraft."

    So if a line worker steps one foot over the runway edge marking while dodging a runaway luggage cart, that’s an incursion. Not exactly a potential fiery runway disaster in the making.

    Same is true if a commuter jet pokes its nose a meter over the hold-short line. Definitely a mistake, but extremely unlikely to cause any sort of accident. Still, it counts as an incursion.

    The US commercial aviation safety record is actually quite remarkable. Uninformed, sensationalist articles like this do a disservice to everyone concerned.

    The fact remains that you’re more likely to be killed or injured by a rogue muni train (or one of those idiots riding their bikes on the sidewalk) in SF than in a runway collision at SFO.

  2. Lil Mike (unregistered) on January 15th, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

    Why is it "sensationalist" to report an actual documented collision by two jets ( one with 57 pax on board)?

    I’m quoting actual data compiled by the FAA that I researched, it’s not some crap i made up. Look it up yourself.

    Granted 1 "incursion" in a 100,000 is perhaps acceptable good odds for an airport, but many around the US do far better.

    If you feel SFO is such a safe airport and RI’s are not a problem, why is SFO on a list of 20 airports that received additional scrutiny by the industry’s own internal watchdogs?

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