Comair’s operating procedures did not include any written guidance specific to runway identification for takeoff before Flight 5191 crashed and burned in a field off Lexington Blue Grass Airport on August 27, despite a 1989 NTSB recommendation that called for the FAA to ensure that the manuals of all Part 121 operators require runway cross checks, said the Board in a new safety recommendation to the FAA last month. Comair also did not provide guidance to its pilots about conducting takeoffs at night on runways without edge or centerline lights, according to the NTSB.
The recommendation, sent to the FAA on December 12, advises the agency to mandate heading cross checks and explicit runway lighting requirements for nighttime takeoffs. Citing “several” cases in which flight crews used the wrong departure runway, the NTSB registered its concern that neither a 2003 Advisory Circular nor a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) issued by the FAA on September 1 that offer techniques and procedures for consideration mandates compliance.
The NTSB said it found “multiple” Part 121 operators that had not written procedures for verifying the identification of departure runways. A recent survey of Part 121 operators conducted by the Board also revealed a general inconsistency among airlines’ rules governing or prohibiting nighttime takeoffs from unlighted runways. For example, it said, one operator prohibits such takeoffs unless the company’s director of operations gives permission.
Another operator allows them, provided enough ambient light exists to allow the crew to identify the runway surface and maintain directional control during the takeoff roll. The new recommendation advises the FAA to require that all Part 121 operators provide specific written guidance on lighting requirements.
After getting clearance to depart from Blue Grass Airport’s 7,000-foot Runway 22, the crew of Comair Flight 5191 tried unsuccessfully to take off in pre-dawn darkness from 3,500-foot Runway 26 with a near fully loaded Bombardier CRJ100–an airplane that requires more than 5,000 feet to do so in ideal conditions. The August 23 crash killed all but one of the 50 occupants. The lone survivor–first officer James Polehinke–lost a leg to amputation and just finished a three-month stay at a Lexington rehabilitation facility.