BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Southwest Airlines, prompted by worries about safety alerts from cockpit computers, has barred its pilots from landing on the runway where a UPS cargo jet was trying to land when it crashed at Birmingham’s airport last year, the company said Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the Texas-based airline, Jenna Williamson, said Birmingham’s Runway 18 is no longer authorized for Southwest landings, but pilots can still use it for taking off.
Southwest made the decision because a cockpit system was alerting pilots they were flying too close to terrain when approaching the runway, she said.
The north-south runway has hills at either end and is about 5,000 feet shorter than the airport’s primary runway. It also lacks complete guidance equipment, making landings trickier than on other runways.
Southwest’s decision was first reported by Al.com. While the Federal Aviation Administration still lists the shorter runway as being approved for traffic, airlines can impose internal rules that are tighter than government regulations.
Southwest’s rule goes further than a safety alert from a major regional passenger carrier, Atlanta-based ExpressJet Airlines, which told its pilots to avoid Runway 18 whenever possible and use the longer runway. The ExpressJet decision followed an internal review prompted by the UPS accident.
A UPS A300 jet clipped tress and crashed into the side of a hill while nearing the shorter runway in August, killing two pilots. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation indicated that commercial pilots typically land on the airport’s main runway rather than the one where the UPS pilot was trying to land.
The NTSB, which has yet to determine the likely cause of the crash, held a hearing that concentrated more on the possibility of pilot fatigue than any potential problem with the runway at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
The authority that governs the airport has declined comment on the runway, citing the continuing NTSB review.
Birmingham’s airport has only two runways, but Williamson said Southwest receives enough notice to avoid scheduling problems when the longer runway isn’t available for landings.
“If there is an unplanned or sudden closure … our dispatchers will coordinate with the flight crew on plans for either delaying departure of flight into (Birmingham), airborne holding, or diverting affected flights,” Williamson said in an interview conducted by email.