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Brazil to shorten Congonhas' runways to create overrun zone

Brazil’s government plans to shorten both runways at Sao Paulo Congonhas Airport in order to create runway safety areas, following July’s fatal TAM Airbus A320 overrun.

The Brazilian ministry of defence has carried out a study to assess options for increasing safety at the airport in the wake of the accident. Congonhas’ main runway is just 1,940m (6,365ft) long but, owing to the airport’s being surrounded by population centres, there is no room at either runway end for extension.

"The studies pointed to the necessity of creating escape areas," says a spokesman for the ministry. "Such areas will provide greater safety for aircraft landing and taking off, with an additional surface area which can be used in case of problems."

But it says that the scheme will reduce the usable distance on both runways. The longer 17R/35L runway, on which the ill-fated TAM A320 landed on 17 July, will be shortened by 300m to 1,640m (5,380ft) while the parallel 17L/35R will be reduced by 240m to 1,195m (3,920ft).

Congonhas will also prohibit large transport aircraft from using the shorter of the two runways to land. Landing restrictions will also be imposed on the longer runway during rain.

Representatives of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) had highlighted the lack of runway safety areas at Congonhas following the A320 overrun.

TAM claims that the runway reduction and the additional restrictions will "not have much effect" on the airline’s operations at the airport, estimating that only 2% of flights would be affected by the new configuration. It says there will be "no immediate change" in the number of flights it performs from Congonhas.

From tomorrow the carrier will exclusively use the longer runway for Airbus A319 and A320 flights. It has 15 A319s of which seven are used on the Sao Paul-Rio de Janeiro shuttle route. The carrier also operates 62 A320s, and says that these will have "slight" weight limitations imposed during wet weather conditions at Congonhas.

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