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WKYT Investigates | Safety precautions in place ahead of LEX airport runway repave

The last repave of the airport’s main runway was completed just a week before the crash of Flight 5191.
Updated: Jul. 26, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Preparatory work has already begun ahead of a major runway resurfacing project next month at Blue Grass Airport.

The paving process itself will close the airport for three days.

When the repaving occurs, it will have been 15 years - almost to the day - since it was last done. That means, for many, it may also bring to mind what happened just a week later, when Comair Flight 5191 crashed, killing 49 of 50 people on board.

[MORE: Remembering the victims of Flight 5191]

Airport officials told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer that they are “hyper-sensitive” to the fact that the anniversary of the crash is looming as the work begins.

“We’re part of this community,” said Executive Director Eric Frankl. “Those families are certainly in our thoughts. We want to make sure we do this by the book and as safely as we possibly can.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators determined in the official accident report that pilot error was to blame for the crash, concluding that several factors caused confusion and led to missed cues that resulted in the plane trying to take off from the incorrect (and shorter) runway.

Since then, numerous changes have been implemented to the airfield configuration and to aviation procedures to make it more difficult to replicate the chain of events that led to the crash.

[MORE: How Blue Grass Airport has changed since Comair Flight 5191]

Additionally, earlier this month officials cut the ribbon on safety enhancements to the airport’s taxiways, creating a more standardized look and feel that pilots are used to seeing at other airports around the country.

The resurfacing project has taken years of planning, Frankl said, and for the past several months crews have been working to remove hundreds of in-pavement lights. The prep work will culminate in a busy 72-hour period of milling and paving on the 7,000-foot-long by 150-foot-wide runway.

Once paving is complete, work will continue for several months afterward to groove the pavement, replace runway lights and place permanent markings on the pavement. Until that is done, officials said they are making sure that safety measures are still in place, including lights functioning on the sides of the runway, as well as temporary runway markings.

“It’s completely visible to the pilot. It just doesn’t last as long,” Frankl said of the temporary markings. “It won’t look much different at all.”

The airport has been closing overnight (from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. each day) to get the prep work done, and Frankl said it will continue to do so each night after the three-day closure until all the work is finished.

The project will use an estimated 21,000 tons of asphalt. It is expected to cost $16.2 million and will be 100 percent paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration, airport leaders said.

[MORE: WKYT Investigates]

Based on the airport’s current traffic load, officials hope to get 16 or 17 years of use out of the new runway surface before it has to be repaved.

Airport leaders said the date for the weekend closure was selected based on multiple factors - including school start dates, dwindling leisure travel loads and expected weather - in an effort to minimize the impact on travelers.

The crash of Flight 5191 was categorized as a runway incursion, which is defined by the FAA as an incident “involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take off of aircraft.”

Federal data shows 43 runway incursions at Blue Grass Airport going back to 2002. Nineteen of them - including Flight 5191 - were considered pilot deviations, which is defined as “action of a pilot that violates any Federal Aviation Regulation.”

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