Birmingham opened main runway minutes after UPS flight 1354 crashed

Washington DC
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Officials at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama were minutes away from opening the airport’s main ILS-equipped runway when UPS flight 1354 crashed on approach to the airport’s shorter runway on 14 August 2013.

The airport confirms to Flightglobal that it opened the primary 11,998ft (3,657m) runway 06/24 within 15 minutes of when the Airbus A300-600 crashed in a field while attempting to land on the 7,099ft runway 18, killing the two pilots.

Runway 06/24 was closed that night for maintenance on the centerline lights, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is holding a crash hearing on 20 February.

Runway 18 does not have an instrument landing system.

The airport’s confirmation agrees with a recently-released audio transcript of the airport tower’s communication at the time of the accident, which indicates the main runway was actually open as soon as five minutes after the crash.

The audio recording, released by the Federal Aviation Administration, covers a period of roughly six minutes before and five minutes after the crash.

It begins at 04:41 local time with the UPS pilots reporting being at an altitude of 11,000ft and requesting a lower altitude.

The controller clears the aircraft to descend to 3,000ft, notifies the pilots that the airport’s runway 6 is “still closed” and offers to direct the aircraft to intercept the localiser for runway 18.

“Yes, sir, the localiser 18 will work,” one of the UPS pilots responds.

Three-and-a-half minutes later, Birmingham control clears flight 1356 to land on runway 18.

Less than one minute after that, the controller contacts an airport authority vehicle and asks, “Airport 12, are... we, uh, on schedule to open back up at, uh, one-zero z.”

“Affirm, they are very close to the end right now,” someone in the vehicle responds.

“One-zero z” means 10:00 Zulu time, which was 05:00 central daylight time in Birmingham.

The aircraft crashed at 04:47 central daylight time, the NTSB says.

At 04:48, the airport vehicle asks the tower, “Did you see that?” according to the audio file.

“That was a crash. UPS 1354 heavy crashed, uh, on the hill,” the tower responds. “Attention, uh, attention, attention. Uh, alert... Aircraft crash, uh, three-mile final runway 18.”

During the next few minutes the controller clears airport vehicles across the field towards the crash site.

At 04:52, five minutes after the crash, the tower asks for confirmation that the runway can be opened to traffic.

“Advise when we can reopen the runway. I got a FedEx inbound. I need to use the ILS,” the controller says.

“Affirm, you can use the runway is clear back open,” a vehicle responds.

“Roger. It is showing open,” replies the tower.

Neither the FAA or the NTSB responded to requests to clarify information on the audio file.

The crash killed Captain Cerea Beal Jr., 58, and first officer Shanda Fanning, 37, UPS has said.