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Wed, Aug 30, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (08.30.06): Tunnel Vision

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 08.30.06

This week's tragic departure crash of a commuter jet at Lexington, KY reminds me of another horrible accident. On October 31, 2000 a Singapore Airlines 747-400 was expediting departure in darkness and high winds, at Taipei, Taiwan. A typhoon was bearing down on the island nation and the seven-four's captain was trying to be the last plane out before the storm hit. They didn't make it.

A passenger who survived the Singapore crash later said she  "enjoyed night takeoffs" because she loved to "watch the runway edge lights speed by as the takeoff roll accelerated." But she "didn't see any lights this time; it was dark as (she) looked out (her) window while the plane raced down the runway." In half-mile visibility the highly experienced aircrew had lined up on the wrong runway-one that was not even lighted at the time, and was closed for repairs. About 4500 feet into the takeoff roll the 747 struck a concrete barrier that tore into the racing jet. Nearly half the people on board died in the ensuing crash. 

Tunnel vision

Airline accident reporter and retired 747-400 captain Robert J. Boser attributes the Singapore 006 crash to crew "tunnel vision" -- a pilot's impaired perception under stress that causes him/her to mentally adjust what's seen to what the pilot *expects* to see. It's the same phenomenon, he says, that causes a pilot to miss hearing a loud landing gear warning horn, to turn to the reciprocal of the desired heading and fly off in the wrong direction, or to line up on the wrong runway or even the wrong airport for landing. Pressure to take off ahead of the storm may have played a big part in developing tunnel vision that resulted in this fateful mistake.

Could tunnel vision have played a part in the Comair 5191 crash? We don't know yet. Preliminary investigative statements are that the crew and tower controller conversed normally before the Canadair CRJ took the incorrect runway. Pilot fatigue is always suspect for an early morning departure after an overnight crew rest, and I'm sure this will be explored during the NTSB investigation. To date, however, we know few additional details.

Choosing the wrong runway may result in a collision with obstacles on the runway, as in the Singapore 006 crash, or inability to become airborne and a runway overrun, as with the Comair jet this week. Lining up on the incorrect runway might lead to a collision with another airplane on a crossing taxiway or, if runways intersect, with an aircraft on a runway that's in use. In tomorrow's Aero-Tips we'll discuss some techniques that may help you avoid tunnel vision and line up on the proper runway.

Aero-tip of the day: Remember that even the best of us are subject to tunnel vision at times.  Take active steps to line up with the proper runway for takeoff.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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