Airports–The media gets it right!

June 29, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

Too many times the local newspaper or TV station  routinely sensationalize a story about aviation accidents. When the local entities come out to state their opposition to the airport after an accident occurs, the media often report the controversy but just as often never say anything about the merits of the case. This week, an unusual thing happened.

At Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport, CT a Piper Saratoga clipped the top of a blast fence on approach to landing. The impact ripped off  part of a wing and the wreckage slid onto the runway. Both the pilot and his wife were injured.

For years the city, the airport and the FAA have wanted to remove the blast fence and install a runway safety zone with a special collapsible surface that would stop an aircraft that was overrunning and remove the fence hazard to both arriving and departing flight. Connecticut Post – Online offered  this editorial:

“Since no one was killed this time, it’s fine that bickering over removal of that fence and replacing it with a safety zone can drone on for a few more years. Urgency will come, apparently, when the next pilot or passenger is actually incinerated in a wreck on the fence — as happened in 1994 when a plane crashed into the fence and eight people died in the ensuing inferno.

That this fence stands is simply shameful. That the Federal Aviation Administration has not taken control of the situation is shameful. That critics fight against safety by misrepresenting creation of a safety zone as “expansion” of the airport is most shameful of all.

What has been proposed is replacing the lethal metal fence with a stretch of EMAS — the acronym standing for engineered materials arrestor system — which is material that would crumble under the weight of an airplane, bringing the plane to a halt with little risk to humans and the plane. It adds not one inch to the length of the runway, hence the “expansion” accusation is a false one.

Putting an EMAS zone at the end of the runway in question at Sikorsky would require rerouting Stratford’s Main Street. Rerouting Main Street would indeed be a substantial project. Nowhere near as substantial, though, as burying the victims of the next crash into the lethal fence.”

This is the 4th accident involving the fence in 17 years according according to Reporter Tim Loh  writing the day before the editorial appeared, ” …Opponents, however, have blocked that plan for years by raising environmental concerns about the surrounding area and by stoking fears that such a remodeling would attract larger, louder planes to the airport.

The runway, meanwhile, has not been upgraded since 1982. And though it is deemed safe, it no longer complies with FAA standards. Bridgeport and Sikorsky officials maintain that the safety upgrade would not lengthen the runway by an inch…..”

Bravo for Reporter Loh and the Connecticut Post for telling the truth! Mark Twain said, “Always tell the truth because it will amaze your friends and confound your enemies.” I am amazed and most appreciative!

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Bob Van Zant

    That’s runway 24? With a 319′ displaced threshold? He hit a 12′ tall fence that was, according to the AF/D, 319′ + 20′ (339′) from the approach end of the runway? So much for crossing the threshold at 50′.

  • Herschel Smith

    So you have never missed your spot or hit an area of turbulence on short final… If you do, you shouldn’t be killed or severely injured for what in any other circumstance would just be an incident. Humans all human make mistakes that is guaranteed.

  • GTH

    I think the point is more about safety for all pilots and even people walking or driving in the area. Who cares how an incident happens. The fact is they do and sometimes people get hurt or die. Let’s fix this now before it is too late. The people against the project seem willing to live with the blood of others on their hands so let them find another way to get their jollys… maybe they could watch accidents on I95 or Rt.15. This is a stupid debate. Four accidents, one killing 8 people. Enough politics! Politics has gotten this country into a mess that will take decades to fix, if ever. FIX THE RUNWAY!

  • Larry

    May sound a bit silly, but if the part of the runway that is the displaced threshold was painted green so it didn’t look like runway then maybe the pilot would not have made the mistake of lining up to the end of the runway. The FAA makes a continuous point of reminding pilots about runway incursions but doesn’t remind us much about runway markings and what a displaced threshold implies – that there is some sort of obstacle that needs to be avoided near the end of the runway.

  • Jim Vroom

    With all due respect to the pilots and families of hurt or deceased, hitting the fence
    is PILOT ERROR. We can make things fool-proof … but NOT damn-fool-proof.
    Even in gusty/wind shear etc … cutting it that close AT A DISPLACED THRESHOLD is p-poor peformance.

  • David Adams

    And what happens when the the new fence is installed and another pilot tries to land too short and hits the new fence. The runway over run serves no purpose. The excess pavement can be removed creating the same effect as the EMAS zone at far lower cost.

  • Brian Knoblauch

    Looking at the site on Google Earth/Street View the fence doesn’t appear to be much of an obstacle. It might be nice if it wasn’t there, but then really, if you’re low enough to hit that fence, then you could easily clip a semi driving down the road!

    Are displaced thresholds rare out that way or something? We have a number of them around here, and if you were to come down a bit early, you’d be likely to impact a fairly large tree and have a long (most likely fatal) fall to the ground… Displaced thresholds are there for a reason and must be respected. Typically better to land a little bit long/run off the end than to land/crash before the runway even starts…

  • Bruce Landsberg

    All valid points – A few additional items for your consideration. The accident occurred at night/dusk so the fence may not have been as visible – ditto the displaced threshold. The pilot should have checked and flown it higher – we all agree.

    However, there were 8 fatalities as a result of an overshoot a few years earlier. An EMAS system would have prevented that – at a fraction of the cost. Just as we remove telephone poles and redesign guard rails on the highways to prevent the sudden stop, so too with obstacles close to runways.

    If humans just flew better all this would be moot. Brian, I have a semi story for another blog – thanks for reminding me .

  • Herb Ludgewait

    Rerouting a main street at tax payer expense and citizen inconvience because pilots are not responsible enough to do their homework? Wait till the non-flying media gets ahold of this. ASI is supposed to inhance safety, not make excuses and expect the non-flying public to pay for our mistakes

  • Bruce Landsberg


    If the airport were privately owned I’d agree completely but this is a public facility owned by the city. Would also agree if this were an isolated incident – it’s not.

    The Airport and Airways trust fund is designed to handle expenditures like this. It is funded through GA fuel taxes, passenger ticket fees, and international arrival and departure taxes.

    In my view this is a better expenditure of scare resources and while we are in the training business it’s usually more effective to redesign the aircraft or the airport than to depend on human reliability – we’re not especially – as a group. Good idea for another article – let me do some research on that and thanks for your comment.