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Dangerous runways threaten the safety of airline passengers

Much of the world was shocked when news broke of an accident that caused a Delta Air Lines passenger plane to skid off a runway at LaGuardia Airport yesterday. According to numerous media outlets, the plane slid after landing and was only halted a few feet from the bank of the frigid East River. As of yesterday, it seems that nothing was mechanically wrong with the plane and no reports of pilot error surfaced in the hours immediately following the accident.

Should the world have been shocked that a LaGuardia runway was essentially transformed into a slip-and-slide of ice and snow that imperiled the lives of passengers and airline workers alike? Sadly, this accident is not as shocking as it should be. According to data compiled by Boeing Co., landings and takeoffs account for the most significant percentage of airplane accidents which occur on an annual basis.

Certainly, some landing and takeoff accidents occur as a result of pilot error, equipment malfunction and mechanical challenges. However, others occur “simply” as a result of dangerous runways. Boeing Co. data indicates that landing and takeoff accidents caused approximately one-third of fatal airline accidents during the period between 2004 and 2013. As a result of this statistic alone, runway safety is not an issue to be taken lightly.

Thankfully, the recent LaGuardia accident was not fatal. And hopefully its occurrence will bring much-needed attention to the pressing issue of runway safety. Failure to learn valuable lessons from this specific incident will almost certainly ensure that similar accidents will occur in the future.

Source: Bloomberg Business, “LaGuardia Landing Accident Spotlights Threat on Airport Runways,” Alan Levin, March 5, 2015

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