Conflicting Runway Condition Reports Led To Confusion
The flight crew of a Southwest
Airlines Boeing 737-700 received conflicting information about the
condition of the runway as they approached Chicago's Midway Airport
in heavy snow last December.
That was the word Tuesday from the first day of NTSB hearings in
Washington into the December 8, 2005 fatal runway
overrun at Chicago's Midway Airport.
The problem, according to safety officials testifying at the
hearing... is that there's no reliable way to gauge the safety of a
runway and communicate that to a flight crew.
"It continues to be more of an art than a science," said Bill
DeGroh, a safety representative for the Air Line Pilots
But if that's true, then the "art" on December 8 was about as
legible as a kindergartner's finger painting.
The Associated Press reports that about an hour before the
Southwest plane attempted to touchdown at Midway, the pilots were
told runway conditions were fair, with snow covering the taxiways.
Nine minutes before touchdown, they were told the runway was still
in "fair" condition... except at the end of the strip, which was
now in "poor" condition.
Just five minutes later, they were told the first half of the
runway was in "good" condition... but the second half was "poor."
On top of all that... they also had a nine-knot tailwind. Southwest
pilots can land on a runway rated in "poor" shape with a maximum
tailwind of six knots.
And just one minute before touchdown -- by which time the
aircraft was configured to land -- they were told conditions were
"fair to poor."
If you're confused, imagine how the flight crew felt --
especially as you're likely not flying a 136-seat airliner right
The NTSB hearings in Washington are scheduled to wrap up