A Road Runs through It?

December 4, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

Two weeks ago, a statistical outlier occurred. Mishaps involving aircraft colliding with automobiles are rare. Two in the space of a week is highly unusual!

At a privately owned airport in Texas, a student pilot soloing managed to clip the top of an SUV that failed to yield the right of way on a road that runs right off the end of the runway. There was apparently no signage other than the word Stop reportedly painted on the road. It should also be noted that the runway does have a displaced threshold, and there’s usually a good reason for that.

The road does not belong to the airport, but is also privately owned. In retrospect it seems like this could have been better marked because the driver of the SUV appeared to have no idea that his SUV could become an instant convertible. Fortunately there were no injuries other than the student deciding that he may not continue to get his Private certificate. The financial injury, however, will be significant.

The other accident, in Maine, unfortunately had a very sad ending. A Cessna 172 on takeoff struck a pickup truck that was crossing the runway. According to the NTSB preliminary report, the pickup driver, “subsequently saw something grayish in color, continued to cross the runway, and then got out to inspect what he saw at which time he observed an airplane attempting to climb. He continued watching the airplane drift to the left of the runway and make a left turn as if attempting to return to the airport. Subsequently, the airplane was then observed in slow flight, and then it began to spin.” There were three fatalities. The pickup driver, a pilot and CFI based at the airport, stated that he made a call on the CTAF and crossed the runway.

Runways are dangerous places, and it’s incumbent on pilots and drivers alike to beware. It’s hard to know if a driver will understand or even be aware of an aircraft’s presence. I suspect there are two airport managers who will be reviewing procedures in the coming weeks to determine what, if anything, might need to be changed. Other airport managers and pilots should do likewise.

This type of mishap is exceedingly rare, and yet it is not the first time, nor will it likely be the last car-airplane encounter that results in a very bad outcome.

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Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Larry

    Just out of curiosity, I zoomed in on the Google map image of this area (33.056779,-97.232363). The image could be a year or two old, but there is an extremely faded “STOP” signage painted on the West end of the road. Noting is visible at the East end. (I suspect both ends may be freshly marked by now, however.) Some sort of warning signage for pilots might be advisable also.

  • William Fritzsche

    Several years ago I was driving past the runway at Lake in the Hills airport in Illinois. A landing 172 passed in front of me, about 20 feet in front of my step van and the wheels even with my eyes. My coworker, following behind me told me he could only see the wing of the plane above the box of my van. It was a matter of seconds that separated a close call from disaster.

    About two months later another plane and another vehicle weren’t quite so lucky. Fortunately, the damage was limited to a damaged aircraft and a damaged vehicle. Watch for shallow approaches and remember, displaced threshholds are there for a reason.

  • Tim

    It appears that the displaced threshhold was removed at the airfield in Texas, which led directly to this mishap. Displaced threshholds are there for a reason, indeed.

  • Jay

    We do ourselves and GA a disservice when we do not properly phrase news stories, which leads the public and the news media misunderstanding GA. To wit:

    The aircraft did not collide with the automobile.

    The AUTOMOBILE collided with the aircraft, as evidenced by the statement, “an SUV failed to yield the right of way “.

  • Herman

    OK….I’ll be the bad guy on this. FYI….the DT is still in effect and it is 400′. The student flew a crappy/too low landing approach and hit the SUV.PERIOD. Been flying since 1988 and quite tired of the excuses we in general aviation make for ourselves.

    You disagree,fine.Go read the NTSB monthly reports.

  • Herman

    Oh and by the way,Bruce you got it right ! ” Runways are dangerous places…”
    ” It’s hard to know if a driver will understand or even be aware of an aircrafts prescence.”

    So who does that leave?? We as PIC are ultimately charged with the safe operation of each flight.Can we please all remember this…..BE the PIC and stop the carnage.