An Associated Press story entitled “LAX ranks at top for dangerous runways” caught my eye today, not because of the headline, but because of the smaller sub-title below it which stated, “Two nearby Southern California airports share distinction”.
Surprise, surprise. Which airport tops the list? John Wayne.
Southern California has long been the nation’s runway incursion epicenter. Among the country’s 25 busiest commercial airports, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Long Beach Airport and LAX ranked one, two and three in runway incursion rates — measured by incidents per 100,000 flights — since 1999. The three airports also topped the list for the total number of incidents, regardless of size.
For you non-pilots out there, a “runway incursion” occurs whenever an aircraft taxis onto a runway without proper clearance.
I’m not sure why LAX would be on that list. There are no intersecting runways and very little general aviation there. But SNA I can understand. In recent years, lighted hold bars have been installed in the taxiway to help alert pilots that they are about the cross an active runway. Even so, this airport is chock full of pitfalls:
- airliners must cross a general aviation runway to reach the only runway long enough for them to use
- airliners often get odd clearances to back taxi on the general aviation runway, or cross to the west side before turning back toward their runway
- SNA is home to an odd mix of traffic; many aerobatic planes, tailwheels, an abnormally high number of training flights, and a helicopter operation which has rotorcraft refueling on the east side and then taxiing to the west side where they land on top of a building
- the airport is too small to accomodate the level of traffic it’s now experiencing — chalk this up to the closure of every other airport in Orange County except Fullerton
- all the taxiways at SNA (except Charlie) are bi-directional, even the small connecting ones like Kilo and Golf
- the runway layout and prevailing winds result in major wake turbulence concerns
- there are four runup areas, all in odd places
- frequency congestion is acute, to say the least
Van Nuys may be the world’s busiest GA airport, but I’ve always felt that it was much less hectic than John Wayne because it has no airline traffic. The controllers at SNA do a masterful job, but there’s only so much you can do with an airport that small and that crowded.
Spokeswomen at Long Beach and John Wayne airports said most runway incursions at their facilities involved small, private planes. LAX, however, mostly serves commercial aircraft, giving it the greatest potential for a catastrophic accident.
Really? All the runway incursions I’ve witnessed at SNA have been caused by airliners and professional pilots. I’d be interested to know if they really are from “small, private airplanes” or whether it’s just easier for airport administrators to tag a large, faceless mass of pilots.