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Comair Crash Reveals Problems With NOTAM System

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 network 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Pilots contend that the system is outdated and isn't always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.
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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,
http://www.kentucky.com

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


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