Thursday, August 03, 2006

LAX Quite Dangerous, From Latest Report In L.A. Times

One of the best things the former L.A. Times Metro Editor Miriam Pawel ever did was to appoint Jennifer Oldham to the airport beat. Oldham's reporting has been excellent throughout the years she has had this beat, and her latest article, on a near-collision of planes on the runways of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last week was certainly in accord with this tradition.

LAX is three times further from my own house than the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, so I usually use Burbank. Collisions are not so common at LAX as to really worry me, but perhaps the situation will grow worse at LAX during the runway reconstruction just getting started.

Oldham's article discussed in great detail what happened at LAX on July 26, when an America West Express plane piloted by a Mesa Airlines pilot that had just landed strayed onto a runway where a United Express turboprop was just taking off.

The turboprop managed to get into the air early and just missed hitting the America West plane. The separation between the two was "less than 50 feet."

Fortunately, an air traffic controller saw what was about to happen and warned the United pilot, but not before he could not have stopped, and had to take off to avoid a collision which probably would have killed many.

Although air traffic control had told the America West plane to stop before crossing the runway, the pilot of that plane apparently became confused, leading to a serious error, for which we might presume he will be disciplined.

As usual, Oldham's careful reporting was done without sensational or provocative language, although the serious nature of what occurred was not covered up. United Airlines has just gotten into the black again after a long bankruptcy. A crash at LAX might have been fatal for the whole airline.

This is again where newspapers are superb. Television covered this incident, but could not have done so in the same detail.

It's obvious that LAX must be careful during the construction period, delaying flights when necessary to preserve safety. We can have confidence this will be done.

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