Runway Contamination Still an Issue, even in Summer Weather

 - May 11, 2018, 12:58 PM

As aviation groups such as NBAA push the word out to the flying community about TALPA, the FAA’s Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment initiative in effect since late 2016, some aviators might put off investigating it because the program focuses on runway contamination that involves snow, slush, and ice. But it also considers runways contaminated by rain, making TALPA a year-round effort. However, where rain is concerned, there is some controversy.

According to the FAA, airport operators are not required to notify pilots about wet runways—that is, runways covered in one-eighth inch of water or less. That’s just fine with Ryan Sheehan, director of operations and maintenance at Spokane International Airport in Washington (KGEG).

“It goes back to operational costs and staffing,” he told AIN. “A lot of airports don’t have overnight staff, so the question becomes, ‘If the rain starts after the operations staff goes home for the day, what’s the requirement to issue the Notam in the absence of that staff?’”

When an FAA Aviation Advisory and Rulemaking Committee (ARC) was developing TALPA, Chet Collet, Alaska Airlines’ director of flight operations engineering and an ARC member, said the issue caught him by surprise. The decision to make wet runway reporting optional, he said, was made the day before TALPA went into effect.

“The FAA decided to send out a CERTAlert to airport operators and authorities, as well as FAA Airport Certification Safety Inspectors (ACSIs) that made it only ‘highly encouraged’ to report a wet runway,” he said. “Twenty-eight days after the FAA made that decision…[Republican vice presidential candidate] Mike Pence’s aircraft slid off the runway at La Guardia [LGA] in moderate rain.”

Pence was aboard a chartered Eastern Airlines Boeing 737 on Oct. 27, 2016, when the aircraft landed at La Guardia. The NTSB found the aircraft flew approximately 2,000 feet beyond the normal touchdown point in a moderate rainstorm. The jet skidded off the runway at roughly 45 mph. Pilots who landed previously described runway braking action as either “fair” or “good,” according to the NTSB report. None of the 737’s 48 occupants was seriously injured, although three flight attendants were briefly hospitalized. Part of the TALPA process calls for determining the aircraft’s last viable touchdown point, given the runway condition.

Sheehan said the FAA and airport operators have discussed the issue of wet runway reporting at length. “One possibility discussed was to allow a Facility Directory entry for airports to indicate whether [or not] they…issue Notams for wet runways,” said Sheehan. “We half-jokingly suggested we could simply issue a standing Notam that the runway will be wet when raining,” he added. “But that didn’t go over very well.”

The option for reporting wet runways only runs so deep. Airports still must report runways covered in more than one-eighth inch of water. But how that information is reported when the airport is unattended remains an issue. And to this day, Collet said, it is difficult for pilots to discern whether a particular airport will report wet runway conditions.

His advice: Call ahead to the airport as part of your flight planning process. If there is precipitation forecast for the arrival airport, be prepared for landing on a wet runway even if the airport does not report it.

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