Runway Incursions and Florida Plane Law

As a Northwest Florida transportation lawyer in Panama City, Attorney Wes Pittman has vast experience helping people injured in car accidents. However, his experience helping people hurt in transportation accidents extends well beyond automobiles. While there are significantly fewer aviation accidents than car accidents, plane crashes are very risky, with a high rate of fatalities and serious injuries. These accidents can involve failures at multiple levels, including pilot or controller error as well as faulty construction or repair. One form of accident that can have a myriad of causes – which also means injured people may have several opportunities to recover monetary compensation – is a runway accident stemming from, in industry-speak, a “runway incursion.”

Fatal Crash of Plane Tied to Second Plane on Runway

Last weekend, WJHG carried news of a tragic plane crash with a close tie to our region. A 1980 Beech aircraft took off from an airport in Panama City Saturday morning headed for Georgia's LaGrange Callaway Airport. Witnesses report that the pilot had been practicing instrument approaches and had successfully landed the plane several times when, while preparing to land again, the pilot spotted another plane taxiing on the runway and towing a glider. Pulling up suddenly to avoid a collision caused the plane to stall, roll to the left, and hit the ground pretty much nose-first at just after 1 P.M. The airport does not have a control tower. NTSB officials will investigate why the pilots of the two planes did not realize they'd be using the runway at the same time.

The pilot and co-pilot died instantly, and a rear passenger passed away at Columbus Medical Center a few hours later. Officials identified the victims as Vincent Rosetti, age 60; Willy Lutz, age 69; and Jeffrey Van Curtis, age 53; all of Peachtree City. One was an instructor, and the other two were physicians who had just purchased the plane.

FAA on Runway Incursions

In the Federal Aviation Administration's ("FAA") Runway Safety Report 2011-2012, the agency defines a "runway incursion" as "[a]ny occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft." During 2012, 583 towered airports reported 1,150 runway incursions, an increase from 954 the prior year that the FAA attributes to improved reporting. The FAA divides these incidents into three cause-based categories:

  • Operational Incidents – An air traffic controller's actions lead to:
  1. A separation between two aircrafts or an aircraft and another obstacle that is less than the minimum-required distance.
  2. A craft being cleared to take-off or land on a closed runway.
  3. Pilot Deviation – A pilot violates an FAA regulation, leading to the incursion.
  4. Vehicle/Pedestrian Deviation – Pedestrians or vehicles enter a runway or taxiway without controller authorization.

In 2012, 63% of runway incursions involved pilot deviation, and the remaining 37% were fairly evenly split between operational incidents and vehicle/pedestrian deviation.

The FAA is working on a variety of safety measures intended to prevent runway incursions. Still, the bulk of these efforts seem to be focused on large airports that cater to major commercial airliners, despite the fact that small, private planes have a significantly higher crash rate than large airliners. This is particularly concerning because the pilots of smaller planes are often part-time hobbyists with less experience than career pilots working for large airlines, making them subject to pilot error or making it harder for them to respond to an issue caused by another.

Representing Florida Airplane Crash Victims

If you or someone you loved was injured or killed in a plane crash that was someone else's fault, you (and/or your loved one) may be entitled to compensation. Call to schedule a meeting with our Panama City plane crash lawyer.

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