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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Runway Hell

posted by on July 18 at 9:20 AM

From an AP report of the recent air crash in the “Blade Runner of the tropics,” Sao Paulo:

The pilot of an airliner that burst into flames after trying to land on a short, rain-slicked runway apparently tried to take off again, barely clearing rush-hour traffic on a major highway. The death toll rose Wednesday to 189 and could climb higher.

The TAM airlines Airbus-320 flight that originated in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil on Tuesday cleared the airport fence at the end of the runway and the busy highway but slammed into a gas station and a TAM building, causing an inferno.

The 6,362-foot runway at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport has been repeatedly criticized as dangerously short. Two planes slipped off it in rainy weather just a day earlier. Pilots call it the “aircraft carrier” it’s so short and surrounded by heavily populated neighborhoods that they’re told to take off again and fly around if they overshoot the first 1,000 feet of runway.

By contrast, New York’s LaGuardia Airport has a 7,003-foot runway that accommodates similar planes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Now I know what to call LaGuardia: aircraft carrier two. I’ve flown out of that airport once and will never repeat the experience. 7000 feet is still too small. One moment, the plane is heating up; the next moment, it’s in the air. And what’s missing is the calming drama and rumble of a long run.

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Holy crap, that is short. The runways at Denver Int'l are 12,000 feet and one (presumably for 747's) is 16,000. At Seatac they're 9,426 and 11,901 feet.

Posted by Matt from Denver | July 18, 2007 9:32 AM

BTW Charles, don't fly to Chicago's Midway either. The longest runway there is 6,522 ft and you swear you're going to crash into the neighborhood when your plane is making the landing.

Posted by Matt from Denver | July 18, 2007 9:34 AM

Midway in Chicago has a main runway at 6522 feet, and it has some two story buildings right around the perimeter.

Posted by kinaidos | July 18, 2007 9:36 AM

I don't get "Blade Runner of the tropics".

Posted by monkey | July 18, 2007 9:45 AM

A Blade Runner is a cop that hunts replicants in a science fiction movie. I don't see how this is related.

Posted by Dylan! | July 18, 2007 9:47 AM

Will you also call Britain Airstrip One?

Posted by Gitai | July 18, 2007 10:09 AM

@1 - Denver's runways are longer due to the altitude. Thinner air requires faster take-off and landing speeds.

I flew out of a 12000 foot altitude airport in Peru once ... My god! The runway was about 5 miles long, and we were moving WAY faster than normal in order to take off. In order to handle the speed, they have to put special tires on airplanes that fly to high-altitude airports.

Posted by SteveR | July 18, 2007 10:11 AM

@1 cont - Hmmm... looks like I exaggerated a bit. The airport in Juliaca, Peru has a 13,700 foot runway (altitude 12,700 feet). So actually, shorter than Denver, but no 747's.

The planes do have special tires, and they have to modify the oxygen sensors to prevent the masks from deploying when they open the doors.

Posted by SteveR | July 18, 2007 10:20 AM

Jesus christ, city-scapes were a major visual theme in Blade Runner. He means it's dense as fuck.

for example:

Posted by seattle98104 | July 18, 2007 10:23 AM

At least at LGA you don't have to worry about careening into a Brazilian slum.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 18, 2007 10:30 AM

Yeah, and putting a fuel dump right off the end of the runway doesn't strike me a optimal civic planning either.

Posted by SDA in SEA | July 18, 2007 10:45 AM

LOL, what wusses.

Part of my college education was at Selkirk College, which operates a pilot training program in a much more challenging location - in the middle of the Rocky Mountains way north of the border.

And if you think that's bad, you should see a certain airport in New Zealand.


Posted by Will in Seattle | July 18, 2007 11:00 AM

This airport has been operating at very high capacity for over 40 years. Yes, its safety margins suck. But basically, the pilot fucked up.

I've been a passenger in and out of this airport a handful of times, it is not in the middle of a 'Brazilian Slum', but it is built right up to the road that goes around it. With a hefty (70 foot, I'd say) dropoff at the end. Not as big as the dropoff at the north end of the Seatac runways. The fuel dump was NOT at the end of the runway, it is well off to the left, but the plane careened that way. Planes have gone 'long' at LaGuardia, they end up in the water.

Posted by Airport 75 | July 18, 2007 11:14 AM

Well Will, I'm sure that's all hairy. I personally crowned a me own pee-drop on landing in sleet, snow, and wind in December at a short-decked Logan in Boston. The reverse thrust, spoilers and friction brakes seemed to be deployed simultaneously as soon as the wheels touched the ground. Everyone applauded afterwards.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | July 18, 2007 5:55 PM

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