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Cheap software module could have stopped Comair disaster

$18,000 voice warning system approved but not required by FAA. Airlines "too cheap"?
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Written by Richard Koman on

Readily available software with the modest price tag of $18,000 would have prevented the tragic Comair crash in Kentucky, the AP reports.

"To have 49 people burned up in a crash that is totally preventable is one of the worst things I have ever seen, and I've seen almost everything in aviation," Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Honeywell Aerospace's Runway Awareness and Advisory Systemuses a mechanical voice to identify the runway by number before takeoff and warns pilots if the runway is too short for their plane. The system uses GPS systems to identify a plane's position.

The software program _ an enhancement to Honeywell's widely used ground proximity warning system that alerts pilots to mountain peaks ahead _ costs about $18,000 a plane. It was developed in response to Federal Aviation Administration concerns over runway accidents and close calls.

The FAA approved the system in 2003 but didn't require it, and only 600 aircraft currently use the system, out of about 8,000 planes in the US fleet. The majority of the Comair fleet have GPS systems but the airline doesn't use the mechanical voice enhancement.

Jerry Skinner, a Cincinnati lawyer who has represented families of victims in several airline crashes and has used Hall as a consultant, said the airlines made a cost-benefit decision: "The technology would cost money, and most airlines are not ready to put in that stuff."

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