TSB advises runway changes in light of Air France crash

Runways should be lengthened and the rules for landing in thunderstorms should be tightened, the TSB recommended in its report into the 2005 Air France crash in Toronto.

Pilot not to blame, investigator says

Canada's runways should be lengthened and the rules for landing in thunderstorms should be tightened, the Transportation Safety Board recommended Wednesday in its report into the 2005 Air France crash in Toronto.

Fire crews battle to contain flames consuming the wreckage of Air France Flight 358 in Toronto on Aug. 2, 2005. ((Canadian Press))

The TSB, working with French officials,spent about ayear studying the circumstances that sent Air FranceFlight 358 skidding off a runway as it landed at Pearson International Airport in a fierce thunderstorm on Aug. 2, 2005.

The plane burst into flames, sending all 309 passengers scrambling to safety. No one was killed, but 10 passengers and two crew members were seriously injured during the evacuation.

"We think more needs to be done to make sure aircraftwill always touch down safely," TSB chair Wendy Tadros said at a press conference in Toronto on Wednesday.

One of the recommendations in the report is that Transport Canadarequire that 300-metre safety areas be added to the end of all Canadian runways, a measure that is already an international standard, Tadros said. Where a safety area can't be added, airports must be asked to create a backup method of stopping aircraft, she said.

Other recommendations touch on safety during thunderstorms, andinclude:

  • Establishing rules about landing instormsso that pilots know exactly when they should and shouldn't land.
  • Enhancing pilot training, given that the decision to land in worsening weather is a complex one.
  • Requiring all crews to measure the estimated landing distance needed at the end of every flight, taking weather conditions into account. This is something many crews, including the Air France crew, do not currently do, the report finds.

The report also touched on ways to decrease passenger injuries in a crash. It recommends that passengers be instructed at the start of a flight to leave all their carry-on luggage behind during an evacuation because the few seconds it takes to gather luggage could be crucial.

One week after the crash, 184 passengers filed a class-action lawsuit seeking $325 million in damages, as well as assurances that safety practices at Pearson and Air France have improved since the crash.

The TSB, an independent Canadian agency that investigates air, rail, marine and pipeline accidents, was asked to probe the crash soon after it occurred.

Sudden tail wind increased speed

The TSB report touches on reasons for the crash, noting thatthe crewwas contending with heavy rain and fierce winds, including a sudden tail wind that increased the aircraft's speed as it was about to land.

Réal Levasseur, the TSB's lead investigator, said the pilot decided to continue with the landing, instead of trying to suddenly pull out.

"The pilot committed to landing, as he believed that this action was safer than conducting a missed approach into the storm," Levasseur said at the Toronto news conference.

He said the pilot and crew had warning about the stormy weather in Toronto. Forecasts predicted it,controllers at theairport tower warnedthe crew ofit, the radar in the plane showed it and the crew could seeheavy rainas they approached the runway.

Pilot not to blame

Nick Stoss, the investigations director at the TSB, said the pilot cannot be blamed for the crash.

"After we release our reports, the headlines will sometimes read: 'TSB blames the pilot.' Nothing can be further from the truth," he said at the press conference.

"I can tell you this —crew was not the first one to make the same decisions in much of the same conditions," he added."In fact, the accident record shows the potential for landing accidents in bad weather remains today."

Stosssaid that since the 2005 Air France crash, another 10 large airplanes around the world have run off runways while attempting to land in bad weather. Another TSB statistic states that in the past 25 years,an average of oneaircraft a month has overrun a runway somewhere in the world.

"At the TSB, we believe that accidents speak to a failure in the system,"Stoss said. "If we don't do something to change the system, accidents such as this runway overrun will needlessly happen again."

Transport Canadawelcomes report

Stossurged Transport Canada and other world regulatory bodies to study the changes in policy his agency is proposing.

"It's now time for the transport industry to take action on these recommendations."

Transport Minister Lawrence Canon said he would be taking the recommendations seriously.

"Transport Canada fully supports the intent of the recommendations made today and departmental officials are currently reviewing the contents of the report," he said Wednesday in a press release.

"Our government's priority is to help ensure the safety and security of the transportation system."

Transport Canadanoted that some changes have already been made since the 2005 crash.

InSeptember 2006, Transport Canadaprohibited commercial air operators from beginning an approach when visibility is so poor that a successful approach to a landing is unlikely.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said in a press release Wednesday that it is ready to work closely with Transport Canada, should there be any changes to the rules and regulations that govern airports.