Pilots Of Comair Flight 1591 May Have Been Without Vital Information

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The pilots of Comair Flight 5191 left the terminal the morning of the fatal crash at Blue Grass Airport last August without receiving information about four important updates at the airport, including one that the normal taxiway to the main runway was closed.

Comair pilots had 15 updates - called Notices to Airmen - available through the airline's flight dispatch paperwork the morning of Aug. 27, 2006, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

But four NOTAMs - including the one detailing the closing of the taxiway normally taken to the main runway - were missing, the Air Line Pilots Association said in a submission to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The flight crashed shortly after mistakenly taking off from the airport's general aviation runway, killing 49 of 50 people on board. The plane taxied to the wrong runway in the predawn darkness.

Flight data recordings indicated the pilots thought they were taking off from the main runway and may have been confused by the alternate route. The NTSB will release its findings and state a probable cause in the crash during a meeting in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

The other NOTAMs Capt. Jeffrey Clay and First Officer James Polehinke did not receive the morning of the crash included information about the airport's general aviation runway being limited to daytime-use only and the distance-remaining lights on the airport's main runway being out of service.

The pilots did not have the taxiway notice because Comair does not have a way of picking up local NOTAMs at Blue Grass Airport.

The airline says its policy is for pilots to receive local NOTAMs through prerecorded radio messages from the air traffic control tower.

The message about the taxiway closing, however, wasn't on the recording the morning of the crash even though it had been on the system in the six days before the crash. Randy Harris, president of the local National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said he didn't know why the notice wasn't recorded on that day.

Pilots contend that the system is outdated and isn't always readily available. Anywhere from 300 to 1,000 NOTAMs are issued each day across the nation, and can contain everything from departure procedures to runway closings to airport construction.

The NTSB cited NOTAM-issues as a contributing factor in 30 accidents and incidents between 1991 and 2006. The Federal Aviation administration agreed there were problems with the NOTAM system in
a report three years ago.

"Because of the complexity of the system, it is inherently error-prone. A breakdown can occur at any step in the process, or in multiple steps, leading to possibly serious consequences," according to the report published in the April 2004 Flight Safety Digest.

The FAA is already working on making the notices easier to understand and the FAA's flight-service stations, operated by Lockeed Martin, have upgraded their technology to make it easier to share information on local NOTAMs.

The goal is to make all local NOTAMs available on the Web, giving pilots 24-hour access to all notice information said Keith Mordoff, Lockheed's director of external communications.

Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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