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Thu, Apr 19, 2007

FedEx Protests Landing Changes At Memphis International

FAA Plans To Stagger Flight Patterns

Air traffic controllers have long held the runway situation at Memphis International Airport poses a potential risk to pilots. In the wake of national spotlight recently cast on the situation, the FAA decided to make some changes.

As ANN reported, when aircraft land on runway 18L or 18C from the north, they pass over Runway 27; if an airplane is on 27 or its taxiways, it creates a potential safety hazard.

Safety also comes into question during a go-around. Advocates for a change at MEM state a go-round could be a tragedy waiting to happen for planes approaching Runway 27 when simultaneous approaches are underway on the perpendicular runways.

FedEx wholeheartedly disagrees, however. A spokesman for the Memphis-based cargo hauler said, "We've followed these arrival procedures for 20 years and know its safe or we wouldn't be flying them. We look forward to working with the agency during their review. The FAA will review this safety assessment," according to WREG Memphis.

A situation that's been termed a 'near-miss' between two aircraft put Memphis in the spotlight.

"This has been an issue for years," says National Air Traffic Controllers Association President, Peter Sufka. "I'm not the first controller at Memphis to tell the FAA 'I think there's something wrong with operation'."

The FAA is now saying "flight patterns will stagger", allowing for more room between aircraft during landing. The agency says all affected major airlines were notified of the change Friday. Controllers are reportedly happy to see the change take effect Monday.

The FAA admits capacity could be affected but FedEx declined comment on the issue. Sources note efficiency in moving a high volume of planes through an airport is a "major" financial concern. Controllers contend the landing patterns were placing 'dollars above lives'.

The FAA did not record the February incident a 'near-miss' because the pilots involved did not report it as such, a fact that concerns controllers.

A concerned controller said "The first time you see it happen is very frightening. It goes against everything you've ever been taught. And just because it works, doesn't mean its safe."



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