CBSN

Dec. 13, 1998: The Great Runway Debate

A "land and hold short operation," or LAHSO, is a maneuver that the average passenger has probably experienced without even being aware of it, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

It happens when a landing plane is simply asked to stop short on its runway to allow another plane to land or take off on an intersecting runway.

At America's crowded airports, using intersecting runways at the same time helps accommodate a lot more traffic.

"For air traffic operations at those major airports we can increase the acceptance rate at the airport during good weather conditions by about 30-35 arrivals an hour when the weather is good, and for us that means a lot," says FAA program director Jeff Griffith.

But is it safe? The FAA points to a thirty-year record with no accidents attributed to LAHSO, and now wants allow its use on wet runways.

The airline pilots association objects.

"You must remember that this started out at three airports and now it's expanded to 228 airports, 850 runways. They're trying to increase it some more, we're not," says Duane Woerth of the association. " The pilots of this country, the airline pilots association, are not prepared to run on dumb luck."

Pilots point to many close calls caused by LAHSO, including one at O'Hare in May of last year. Air traffic controller Craig Burzych witnessed the incident.

"The controller cleared an arrival on runway 27 left to land with instructions to hold short of the intersecting runway 14 right," he recalls. "He then cleared the British Sirways 747 for takeoff on runway 14 right."

but things did not go as planned. The United 737 landing on the first runway, appeared unable to hold short and was heading directly into the British Airways' jet's path. The controller told the 747's pilot to abort take-off. He did, but loaded and at top take-off speed, he locked twelve brakes and blew out six tires. The United plane landed safely, very close to the intersection.

"That pilot had to contend with very gusty winds changing direction in a very short period of time and precipitation also started falling right at the time that he was touching down, so I'm not sure that he had a fair shot of landing and being able to hold short of that runway," says Burzych.

O'Hare controllers like Burzych believe LAHSO is a safe procedure, at least at their airport with its longer-than-average runways.

"I'm comfortable with the additions they want as they pertain to O'Hare tower," he says. "I'm not comfortable with some of the conditions they want as it affects other airports."

The proposed use of LAHSO in wet weather and its possible increased use at night has pilots particularly concerned.

"LAHSO is especially troublesome in obviously shorter landing distances you have when you know you're going to have to almost do a maximum performance of the airplane and you have to perform at maximum performnce," says Woerth. "Not every one of us is Chuck Yaeger every single day of our lives."

But the FAA believes today's planes can handle the procedure.

"We've also looked to get some more flexibility on the procedure because the inventory of aircraft has changed over the last thirty years and aircraft perform much better," says Griffith.

But not every plane on the runway is new, argue pilots, and not every pilot equally skilled.

If the FAA doesn't set out specific plane-by-plane safety guidelines for the expanded use of LAHSO by February 1998, members of the pilots union say they will refuse to perform the procedure at all.

"There hasn't been an accident, but I think we're running into a statistical probability here that is making us very uncomfortable," says Woerth.

Reported by John Roberts
©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved