By Joe Henderson
Published: April 5, 2016
The best thing about Peter O. Knight Airport is its location at the end of Davis Islands. People can step out of an airplane and make their business meeting 10 minutes later in downtown Tampa.
Unfortunately, that convenience might also be the worst thing about the airport. Its runways run awfully close to neighborhood houses and streets. It stays busy, too. Planes and helicopters take off from there an estimated 165 times a day. I don’t blame people living nearby for being a little skittish. They have good reason to be.
The recent crash of a twin-engine Cessna 340, resulting in the death of two men, started the conversation anew about the safety of Peter O. Knight. The Cessna crash last month was the 11th logged by the National Transportation Safety Board at that facility since 2002, resulting in seven deaths.
That’s a lot. A number like that will get your attention.
In a Tampa Tribune story Tuesday, Howard Altman reported that some residents on the island are nervous because there is no control tower at the airport. They have a legitimate point, even though it is true that most small airports don’t have a tower.
Did I say most?
About 12,000 airports in the United States are not equipped with a tower. Those are usually reserved for the big airports. About 400 have them. This issue is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
A tower might have prevented the Cessna crash, which happened when Louis Caporicci, an experienced pilot, had to make an emergency maneuver to avoid a mid-air collision with another plane that had taken off on an intersecting runway.
What if Caporicci’s plane had crashed onto one of the neighborhood streets, where homes are crammed close together? As bad as the outcome was, it could have been a catastrophe.
The same could have been true in 2006 when a King Air 90 was trying to make an emergency landing there and, according to the NTSB report, “collided with several obstacles before coming to rest at a house located past the departure end of runway 35.”
“Coming to rest” is one way to put it.
A more descriptive way might be to say it skidded off the runway and ran through a retaining fence before crashing into a house, causing a fire that destroyed the home. The pilot died.
Another crash was caused when a plane trying an emergency landing clipped the mast of a sailboat and wound up in the water.
And that doesn’t count the time an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III — a military cargo jet that is way, way too big for a tiny airport — landed at Peter O. Knight instead of nearby MacDill. The head of U.S. Central Command called it “human error” and said the crew was worn out after flying from Italy.
You start adding the mechanical failures and pilot errors that the NTSB said led to planes that “impacted the runway” or “impacted with water” at the airport and you start to wonder if the price of convenience will get too high.
MacDill is less than 5 miles away. Big jets landing or taking off at Tampa International are nearby, too.
That’s a lot of airplanes in a fairly confined space.
Then consider a pair of warnings from the NTSB in 2014.
One was a safety alert for aircraft landing at the wrong airports, which has already happened here. Another was a recommendation that the FAA modify air traffic control procedures to reduce the chance of mid-air collisions.
No one is saying the airport should be closed. But there are houses, families and all manner of commerce close to the runways, sometimes uncomfortably so. A thorough FAA review of flight operations at Peter O. Knight would be in order before a bad situation turns worse.
Original article can be found here: http://www.tbo.com