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ABC’s “20.20” Pilot Survey on Five Riskiest U.S. Airports

July 18, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ LaGuardia’s runways are too short, Los Angeles International is too congested, and San Diego Airport has a seven-story building blocking an approach view, says a new pilot survey of risky airports.

Two other airports most often cited in the survey were National Airport in Washington and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., for steep takeoff requirements.

More than 200 professional pilots responded to the survey, the basis for a segment of ABC’s ″20.20″ news show to be broadcast Friday night.

The survey, conducted in conjunction with Professional Pilot Magazine, was based on responses to a question published in the magazine: ″Which airports that you frequent do you consider to be the most problematic or dangerous?″

The TV show’s producers then interviewed many of the respondents.

A 21-year veteran of Continental Airlines said that landing at LaGuardia in New York is like landing on an aircraft carrier because it is surrounded by water on three sides.

″If you overrun″ the runways, the pilot said, ″you end up in the bay.″

The TV segment recalls that’s what happened two years ago when USAir flight 5050 aborted takeoff from a LaGuardia runway. Two passengers died in that accident and 45 were injured.

Cited for poor lighting and overcrowding, Los Angeles International was the scene of 57 near mid-air collisions within a 30-mile radius of the airport, the report said. That included a crash between a USAir Boeing 737 and a small commuter plan a few months ago that resulted in 34 deaths.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Adminstration defended the government’s regulation of the airports and said there were no unsafe airports in the United States.

″Some airport approaches are more complex and require greater concentration than others,″ said spokesman Bob Buckhorn. ″No professional pilot will fly an unsafe approach nor would he be expected to.″

A spokesman at the Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 43,000 airline pilots, agreed that ″unsafe″ was too strong a word to describe conditions at airports.

″This is not the first time these problems have been pointed out but we would hope that by focusing this kind of attention on them it might spur the various authorities to take some additional action or to move a little quicker on these,″ said ALPA spokesman John Mazor.

The FAA said it would be reviewing the pilots’ complaints detailed in the survey to see if any federal action regarding the cited airports was necessary.

Buckhorn pointed out that the FAA already has a review process for investigating pilot complaints. But Philip Bergman, the producer of the 20.20 segment, said pilots are hesitant to publicly come forward for fear of losing their jobs.

″The FAA’s position that there are no hazardous conditions at airports in the U.S. is ridiculous because we got letters from over 200 pilots,″ Bergman said. ″It is clear that based on these letters we got there are professional airline pilots who are not comfortable with many airports in this country.″

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