Pilot "Sully" Sullenberger: SFO Runway Construction Intended to Prevent Crashes Such as Saturday's

Former airline pilot Chesley "Sulley" Sullenberger of Danville.
Former airline pilot Chesley "Sulley" Sullenberger of Danville.

Former airline captain Chesley "Sulley" Sullenberger told KCBS in an interview Saturday afternoon that the runway construction that's being done at San Francisco International Airport will likely be examined as a possible factor in Saturday's crash of Asiana Flight 214.

Sullenberger, famous for saving a planeload of people by landing a crippled jet on the Hudson River in New York City, told KCBS in a phone interview that the construction, mandated by the FAA, is intended to increase the safety zone by moving the runway landing area farther away from the water and from the rock wall near where the crash occurred — essentially to prevent incidents exactly like Saturday's.

But due to the construction, ground guidance systems for pilots have been shut down, requiring pilots to rely on sight and not on electronics that provide an automated warning system.

"It's too early to say if that is going to be a factor in this case, but it certainly is something they'd be looking at," said Sullenberger, a Danville resident.

According to a 2005 Federal Aviation Administration guideline, older airports needed to extend their runway safety areas to make them "suitable for all types of airplane operations." The SFO construction report released in July 2011 showed that the airport's runways suited air crafts like the Boeing 757 and 747 but didn't list the 777.

SFO started to comply with the federal guidelines in 2012 and planned to complete construction by 2015. Part of the construction includes adding porous concrete at the end of the runways that would absorb the impact of an airplane if necessary, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Sullenberger said an investigation into an incident like Saturday's will take more than a year.

He said a pilot's goal is always to fly an airplane as far into an accident sequence as possible, to minimize injuries to passengers and on the ground but said that it's unlikely the pilots had much control after the plane hit the ground.

"It's likely, from what I've seen in photographs and videotapes, that the control of the airplane once it hit the ground was fairly limited," Sullenberger said. There was not a lot they could do to affect the outcome at this point."

Robert July 07, 2013 at 02:32 AM
ABC7 just said the pilot at the controls has an extensive flight history....an an excellent record.....so we'll see what he says when he's interviewed by the NTSB
Julie Poarch Macholz July 07, 2013 at 03:30 AM
My intent wasn't to criticize a pilot before an investigation is complete. Just pointing out that an ILS that was NOTAM'ed out isn't quite the big deal the press is making it out to be.
SalthePlumber July 08, 2013 at 12:43 AM
This pilot had only 43 hours on the 777. THAT is BIG news!
Bruce July 08, 2013 at 11:25 AM
``by moving the runway landing area farther away from the water and from the rock wall near where the crash occurred — essentially to prevent incidents exactly like Saturday's.'' That shortens the landing strip. Since you need more to take off than land, that may be okay. But it would not have helped anyway. The plane that crashed was in a stall (no lift left) and nose up. Pilots know that if you want to go up, you apply power, especially at slow speed. Raising the nose was an amateurish, beginning pilot mistake.
Leonard Vinci July 08, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Remember folks....the pilot was in training. Why didn't the air traffic controller radio the pilot and advise him of his poor approach and instruct him to increase power and climb or go just around and try again. And why didn't the more experienced Captain take over...hopefully there was a more experienced pilot in the cockpit....especially if it is true the landing pilot was in training. One more thing...I think if the pilot kept the aircraft level he would have hit the deck hard but he would have missed the rock wall maybe by a few feet...but you know what they say...a miss is a good as a mile. Sad situation all the way around...I am assuming the attorney's are lining up to assist everyone. I am usually against ambulance chasers, but in this case I am not. There are a lot of seriously injured people.


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