Friday, September 30, 2011

FAA investigating incident at Pittsburgh International Airport (KPIT), Pennsylvania. Controllers cleared aircraft to take off from closed runway

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a Tuesday morning incident at Pittsburgh International Airport in which four commercial airplanes and a private jet departed from a closed runway.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said tower controllers at the Findlay Township airport between 7:20 and 7:28 a.m. sent five planes to Runway 28 Right, which had been closed overnight because of storm damage.

JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the airport, said Friday that the Allegheny County Airport Authority had closed the runway around 4 a.m. after multiple lightning strikes damaged runway lighting.

It appears a computer glitch led to the confusion on the runway status. Peters and Jenny said an FAA visual aid in the tower also was damaged during the storm and did not display the closed runway information.

No employees were on the runway at the time of the departures because authority officials had still not sent over workers to complete repairs, Jenny said. The five flights all departed safely, officials said.

As soon as authority officials noticed the flights departing they contacted the tower, and the runway was cleared. Jenny said the runway was reopened around 7:50 a.m.

Jenny said the airport authority also is investigating the incident, which she said is a concern to local officials.

"We will do everything in our power to rectify the situation," she said.

Peters also reported another incident on the runway later in the morning. He said around 10:15 a.m. controllers cleared an airport employee driving a white lawn mower to cross the runway; however the tractor did not move.

At the same time, Peters said, controllers at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin reported that a worker driving a white lawn mower drove across Runway 28 there without permission.

Authority officials discovered that the driver in West Mifflin had selected the radio frequency that should have been used by the Pittsburgh International worker. No planes were using either runway at the time, Peters said.

Peters said the airport authority, which operates both airports, has taken steps to ensure that the problem does not happen again. He said the authority blocked all Pittsburgh International radio frequencies on tractors at the county airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating an incident Tuesday in which air traffic controllers allowed five airplanes to take off from a closed runway at Pittsburgh International Airport.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the FAA said the planes, including three commercial flights and a private jet, departed from Runway 28 Right even though it had been closed early that morning after runway lights were damaged by lightning strikes Monday evening.

Controllers cleared the flights for take off between 7:20 a.m. and 7:28 a.m. All departed safely. It was not clear whether any maintenance workers were working on the runway when the planes took off.

According to the statement, a visual aid in the tower also had been damaged and did not display the closed runway information. Once the Allegheny County Airport Authority reported that the runway was closed, controllers halted departures. The runway reopened at 8:25 a.m.

The incident is the second this year involving take offs from a closed runway.

On Jan. 26, a controller cleared a Republic Airlines flight for departure on runway 10C at the airport even though it had been closed five hours earlier for maintenance.

No one was injured, but controllers did have to undergo refresher training as a result of the incident.

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