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‘I think the public needs to be concerned’: NLV airport safety questioned

Updated August 10, 2022 - 6:13 am

Pilots at the North Las Vegas Airport routinely make wrong turns after taking off, violating safety protocols that protect flights at Harry Reid International Airport and other aircraft, according to federal emails obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The emails were sent Sunday to a handful of local pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Adrienne Brown, an air traffic manager at the North Las Vegas air traffic control tower. They address safety concerns at the North Las Vegas Airport in light of a midair collision at the airfield that killed four people in July.

“I think the public needs to be concerned about North Las Vegas Airport,” flight instructor and aviation safety advocate Will Bradley said after receiving the FAA emails. “I am. Always have been since I’ve been flying in and out of there.”

In the recent midair collision a Piper Malibu and a Cessna collided over the airport, killing Donald Goldberg, 82, Carol Scanlon, 76, both of Las Vegas, flight student Zach Rainey, 47, of North Las Vegas, and his instructor, Anthony Chiaramonti, 40, of Las Vegas. The Goldbergs were in the Piper Malibu while Rainey and Chiaramonti were in the Cessna.

A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report indicates that air traffic controllers instructed the pilot of the Piper Malibu to land on runway 30L, but it slammed into the Cessna near the approach end of the parallel runway 30R.

An early analysis of the crash by the nonprofit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Aviation Safety Institute, meanwhile, also found the pilot of the Piper Malibu likely caused the crash by lining up to land on the wrong runway at the time of the tragedy.

“There is clear transmission between the tower and the Malibu twice that the clearance is on the left runway,” said Richard McSpadden, a senior vice president at the AOPA.

Bradley, 54, of Las Vegas, is a veteran flight instructor with over 15,000 hours of flying time. He previously told the newspaper that roughly three years ago, he attended a local FAA safety meeting at the North Las Vegas Airport where he voiced concerns about the possibility of pilots getting confused by parallel runways with nearly identical names.

He also voiced his belief that the airport should stagger operations at the runways so planes were not flying in close proximity to one another as they approached the runways.

On Sunday, Bradley and other pilots received an email from Brown noting the dangers of pilots overshooting parallel runways while approaching airports. The email cited the July 17 crash as well as a similar, non-fatal midair collision between two planes in Colorado in May 2021 as reason for concern.

“Both events involved an aircraft overshooting the final to their assigned runway while simultaneous operations to parallel runways were in use,” Brown’s email said. “These midair collisions are a stark reminder for both pilots and controllers of the safety risks posed when a pilot turning base overshoots the extended centerline of the assigned runway.”

In a separate email to pilots, Brown wrote that pilots at the North Las Vegas Airport were regularly making wrong turns while flying out of the airport. The wrong turns occurred when pilots used instruments to guide their takeoffs.

The email said pilots, often using third-party navigation apps, have “flown incorrectly on many occasions,” and that they were supposed to make right turns after departure, but instead turned left.

The wrong turns, Brown said, were “nullifying the procedure and its design to protect aviators from obstacles, terrain and Harry Reid departures.”

“This is a dangerous and improper application of the departure procedure,” Brown wrote.

The emails went on to provide safety instructions for pilots to avoid future violations.

“The FAA conducts robust education to ensure pilots are aware of flight procedures and any potential safety issues,” the FAA said in a statement. “It’s important for pilots to follow all safety procedures around airports.”

Asked if current operations at North Las Vegas posed a threat to the flying public, the agency said: “Many U.S. airports are situated near other airports and amid rising terrain. The FAA designs air routes and procedures to keep aircraft safely away from each other and terrain.”

The Clark County Department of Aviation, which operates the airport, referred questions to the FAA.

Bradley said Monday that he believes there should be public hearings that focus on safety protocols at the North Las Vegas Airport.

He said the airport is the second busiest in the state, proffering complex airspace adjacent to both Harry Reid and Nellis Air Force Base. The airspace in and out of North Las Vegas is condensed, he said, and features many pilots learning to fly.

“It is a very unforgiving airport,” Bradley said. “Flying is unforgiving to begin with. You can’t just have a fender bender and pull over and knock the dents out as was demonstrated in the recent crash. Mistakes in the flying world can be and usually are catastrophic, and there are many, many ways for pilots to make mistakes at North Las Vegas Airport.”

Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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