For bad fliers, landing on a runway usually means it's okay to unlock their white-knuckle grips on the armrests and breathe at a normal pace. But a report from The New York Times explains why planes are still in danger after they land. "Since 2008, there have been about three incidents a day in which a plane or a vehicle gets on an active runway by mistake, an average of 1,000 a year," writes The Times's Jad Mouawad in a report (which along with any report about Air France 447) that should be screened before passing along and to your bad-flying loved one. He addds, "in a small number of these cases, a catastrophic collision is narrowly avoided — sometimes only through sheer luck." Great. Usually (full disclosure: your writer is a terrible flier) when you think about air travel and safety it's, well, the air and the airplane (and turbulence) that comes to mind first. Rarely do you think that it's the stupid van trudging across the runway that's going to bring you to your doom. According to Mouawad, airlines have upped their game and become the safest they've ever been, but the regulations and attention paid to ground safety have lagged, even though there are facts like how a "runway incursion" (that's what they officially call these incidents) caused the deadliest accident in aviation history: the Tenerife airport disaster (bad fliers, proceed at your own risk). And as Mouawad explains, the close calls (which, from your seat on the plane, you probably don't see) vary wildly:
Most incidents involve jets, but there have also been cases where fire trucks, helicopters, animal control vehicles, police cars and even pedestrians, cross runways by mistake in recent years. In one instance, a Boeing 767 landing at Honolulu International Airport in 2009 was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid striking an F-15 fighter jet that had stopped on the runway. The pilot realized there was an obstacle only when he saw the F-15’s tailpipes and stopped 200 feet from the fighter.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.