FAA investigates after airplanes launch from closed runway

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The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating an incident Tuesday during which five airplanes took off from a closed runway at Pittsburgh International Airport.

In a statement Friday, the FAA said runway 28 Right closed at 4:02 a.m. Tuesday after multiple lightning strikes damaged the runway's lights.

Nonetheless, between 7:20 and 7:28 a.m. that day, air traffic controllers in the Pittsburgh tower cleared the five planes, including three commercial flights and a private jet, to take off, the FAA said.

A visual aid in the tower had been damaged and did not display the closed runway information. However, an FAA spokesman said the controllers were aware the runway was closed.

All of the flights departed safely. There was no one working on the runway at the time, and no injuries were reported.

According to the FAA statement, once the Allegheny County Airport Authority told the tower the runway was closed, controllers immediately stopped the departures. The runway reopened a little later that morning.

The airport authority will meet with the FAA to discuss the issue.

"We want to make sure that safety's No. 1. The FAA has the same philosophy. We want to make sure we're on the same page," authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.

The episode is not the only one this year involving takeoffs from a closed runway at the Findlay airport.

On Jan. 26, a controller cleared a Republic Airlines flight for departure on runway 10C at Pittsburgh International even though the runway had closed five hours earlier for maintenance. No one was injured, but controllers were required to take refresher training as a result of the incident.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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