Displaced thresholds matter

This video of a Cessna and an SUV colliding near an airport in the Dallas-Ft Worth suburbs should reinforce a number of lessons to both pilots and drivers near airport runways.
Now, the following is my opinion and based only upon what I can see in the video and in other imagery of the area. It’s easier to talk about, since it appears all involved were relatively unscathed.

1. The pilot is lower than he needs to be on final. From what I can tell on google maps, there’s a 300-400 foot displaced threshold when landing on runway 17. The pilot is down to 6′ AGL while 400 feet short of the landing threshold. That’s too low, especially with what is obviously an active road just before the displaced threshold.

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I see pilots at El Monte with some regularity land short of the threshold. Don’t do it. You may not always know why a displaced threshold has been established, but it means you shouldn’t land on that area (except maybe in an emergency). This incident illustrates a common example of why displaced thresholds are established – to help ensure pilots don’t get too low over terrain and obstacles or near people and property at airport boundaries. Both Cable (CCB) and Fullerton (FUL) have roads that are very close to the airport boundary and runway when on final. In both of those cases, the roads are outside of airport fences, but the same concerns should apply.

2. The pilot is suffering from tunnel vision. From part of the video, you can tell there has already been one car pass in front of the airplane, while on fairly short final. That should be a heads up to look for others and to avoid getting too low (add some power). Also contributing may be the pressure of knowing that a family member is there, watching and filming. As a pilot, you may really concentrate on making a good short landing, but to the detriment of situational awareness.

3. The driver of the SUV is suffering from tunnel vision. It’s hard to imagine that Cessna wouldn’t have been very visible out the driver’s side window for many seconds prior to the crash. The road that SUV is on appears to only lead to other parts of the airport, so drivers should be more aware of their surroundings (airplanes should always have the right of way).  However, it does appear that’s the way to the on-airport restaurant that is right next to the taxiway (which may also serve as a road); this might attract less savvy visitors.

4. The airport management can probably do a lot to improve the markings around the airport. Everywhere you look, there are notices (UPDATE – the airport web site has removed basically all information, so that link no longer works) about the nonstandard markings and signage. You certainly wouldn’t want a 10 foot tall stop sign right in the approach path of the runway, but signs nearer the intersections that lead to that section of road would be prudent.

Overall, this was a very preventable incident. Everyone involved seems to bear some of the responsibility. Unfortunately, it will very likely end up in litigation. I hope it doesn’t become an impediment to the continued enjoyment of what looks to be a very vibrant suburban airport. I feel sorry for the student pilot for his decision to give up on his dream of  being a pilot (I also feel sorry for his instructor who is likely to get a bit of scrutiny as well – UPDATE: the pilot got back into flying and got his certificate).

Fly safe and avoid being too low (or too high) on final.


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