Agency Said Publishing Multiple Diagrams Might Result in 'Confusion'

Lexington Herald-Leader
January 18, 2007
By Michelle Ku

Before the crash of Comair Flight 5191, the Federal Aviation Administration rejected Blue Grass Airport's offer to publish an interim airport map depicting construction at the airport, according to a National Safety Transportation Board report.

The interim map would have shown the closing of one taxiway, a new taxiway under construction and a re-labeled taxiway that should have been used to reach the runway.

The FAA did not want to issue an interim chart of Blue Grass Airport because it was concerned that publishing multiple charts of the airport "in a short time frame might be confusing and susceptible to errors in getting proper diagrams in the correct charting/publication schedules," the report said.

Instead of accepting an interim map, the FAA published an airport diagram on Aug. 3 that showed what the runway and taxiway configuration would look like after construction was completed on a new runway safety area, according to the report. That chart, however, did not reflect conditions on the ground on Aug. 27, when the Comair plane took off.

The Aug. 3 diagram showed that the best way to get onto the airport's main 7,000-foot runway (Runway 22) was to use a taxiway connector that hadn't been built yet.

And the taxiway connector pilots should have used to get to the runway wasn't shown on the chart because it was scheduled to be demolished.

But Comair 5191 Pilot Jeffrey Clay and First Officer James Polehinke didn't have the Aug. 3 diagram. Jeppesen, a Colorado-based company that provides Comair's airport diagrams, did not publish the map because of a software error, according to the NTSB report.

On Sept. 8, nearly two weeks after the crash, Jeppesen issued its version of the FAA's Aug. 3 map.

Jeppesen interprets and produces charts based on information from the FAA. Virtually all U.S. commercial airlines receive their airport charts from Jeppesen.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said she didn't want to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation by commenting on the airport charts. The NTSB hasn't issued a probable cause on the accident yet.

On the day of the crash, Clay and Polehinke were using an eight-month-old map that showed the correct taxiway connector that the pilots should have used to reach the runway. But that map did not reflect recent runway construction that had closed another taxiway normally used to reach the main runway.

The airport was in the middle of a runway safety-area improvement project at the time of the crash. Just one week before the Aug. 27 crash, Blue Grass Airport repaved its main runway and closed the taxiway connection that planes normally used to reach the main runway.

Despite the differences that existed between what the airport would look like once construction was completed and the various maps available, "there was no unsafe situation created, and there were no reports of instances where pilots, controllers, airlines or other airport users were confused or misled," the report said.

The airport had been working on the runway safety-area improvement project with the FAA for more than four years prior to the crash.

The fact that during that time, Blue Grass Airport had three "compliance inspections without a single violation related to any aspect of the construction project attests to how well the airport met its safety and operational requirements. The airport also met all the schedule milestones requested by the FAA to facilitate the FAA's information process for airport and navigation charts and guidance for pilots," the report said.

The airport has also most recently passed an FAA inspection on Nov. 21.