Runway incursions nosedive: what's your close call?

The FAA reports that runway incursions dropped by half in fiscal 2009. That's good news if you've even experienced one.
Written by John Dodge, Contributor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said yesterday "runaway incursions" were down by 50 per cent for the 12 months ending Sept. 30 over the corresponding period a year ago. That's good news if you have ever been in a runaway accident. I have.

"A runway incursion occurs when something or someone intrudes on a runway without authorization," according to the FAA. The number of  A and B incursions dropped 25 in 2008 to 12 in 2009 and from 67 in 2000 due to better training, markers and runway layouts.  An A incident is a near collision. Check out the dramatic video below of an Asiana 747 nearly landing on top of a Southwest 737.  A B incursion has the potential for a collision.

My runway accident was an actual collision, but was not particularly hairy, maybe a 3 on the 1-10 scariness scale. But it's something I won't forget.

The accident was on a cloudless and mild day in 2000. I was on a brand new Delta Boeing 737-800 on the ground in Boston in the Shuttle that goes to New York. That year, Delta began replacing its aging fleet of Boeing 727s on the Shuttle with more efficient and quieter 737-800s.  With all that has happened to the airline industry since, Delta  has replaced those with MD-88s, 737-300s and now Embraer 175s. But I digress.

We were stopped on a taxiway when I heard loud thud toward the rear of the aircraft. "Jet wash," a colleague next to me said with a look of "what the hell was that?" Jetwash is noise and turbulence felt when another aircraft passes too close overheard. "That was no [expletive] jetwash," I shot back.

Delta 737-800 with winglets

Several minutes passed during which time most of my fellow shuttlers had stuck their noses back into their Wall Street Journals. We still hadn't moved an inch so I suspected something was up. Finally the pilot came on and said to the best of my recollection, "Folks, we've had a little fender bender. The American 767 next to us couldn't quit get his right wing by our left tail fin. We're heading back to the terminal."

Being a news guy, I immediately called a newsman I knew at WBZ-radio and reported what happened. By the time I called my wife, she had been alerted by friends who had heard me on the radio. Next time, I'll flip the order of those two calls.

But chances of a next time look more remote now as compared to 2000 when runway incursions were at epidemic proportions.

The left tailfin was seriously gashed at the tip and and I presume it had to be replaced. Near as I can guess,  the American pilot or co-pilot carelessly veered too close to our plane. Or one of the planes wasn't on the correct taxiway or aligned properly. The good news for the Delta cockpit crew is that they were stopped.

If this is the worst thing I encounter as a flyer (I estimate I've flown 1.5 million miles), I'll consider myself ahead of the game.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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