Halifax airport operations normalize after Boeing 747 runway overshoot

HALIFAX — The Halifax Stanfield International Airport has resumed normal operations a month after a plane overshot a runway, taking out navigational equipment and leaving a trail of debris in its wake.

On Nov. 7, a Boeing 747 cargo jet overshot the airport’s secondary runway and came close to crashing through the airport’s fence.

Still to be replaced are some approach lighting towers, which help guide pilots to the runway, but airport spokeswoman Theresa Rath Spicer said they aren’t affecting operations.

“About a third (of the towers) were damaged during the runway overrun and that work will continue until mid-December,” she said. “That is an approximate time frame, though. We do anticipate it will take time, and it’s largely weather dependent.”

She said approach lighting is only needed when landing in darkness or poor visibility, so in those conditions, the airport’s other three approaches are available.

Following the incident, the runway remained closed for nearly two weeks before reopening on Nov. 20, though without its full navigational capabilities.

Rath Spicer said the SkyLease Cargo plane also took out a large localizer antenna that was part of a navigational aid, but it has been replaced in the last couple of weeks.

She also said officials have removed and disposed of the contaminated soil and are working to backfill and grade the area in order to extend the runway-end safety area — a project that began before last month’s incident.

A runway-end safety area is a buffer strip that extends past the end of a runway. It gives planes extra stopping distance and can reduce damage and risk to passengers in the event of an overrun.

Transport Canada requires an extra 60 metres of prepared surface at the end of each runway, though it recommends an additional 90 metres for a total margin of 150 metres.

Rath Spicer said Transport Canada will raise the requirement to 150 metres in the near future, and the Halifax airport has already taken steps to meet the anticipated requirement.

Last month, the cargo jet slid 210 metres off the end of the runway, a full 60 metres farther than the forthcoming requirement — though Transport Canada will also recommend an additional 150 metres for a total margin of 300 metres.

For now, Rath Spicer said, the airport will stick to the original plan of upgraing their runway-end safety areas to 150 metres.

“At this time, we are going to be adhering to what we anticipate from Transport Canada,” she said. “Their future requirement, as we understand it, will be 150 metres. So we’re building to that national requirement.”

While the mangled plane was still lying at the end of the runway, the 183,500 kilogram jumbo jet attracted dozens of curious onlookers who watched as crews began tearing into the wreck with a backhoe last month.

Children and adults appeared equally gobsmacked by the massive plane, resting just feet from a barbed-wire fence that separates the airport from a public, two-lane road.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is still investigating the crash, which left four crew members with injuries that were said to be minor.

The aircraft was significantly damaged after it slid 210 metres off the end of Runway 14 in rainy conditions while being buffeted by a crosswind with a potential tailwind.

Flight KKE 4854, which had arrived from Chicago just after 5 a.m. after a two-and-a-half hour flight, was to be loaded with live lobster destined for China.

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