The 14th Annual Archie League Medal of Safety Award Banquet
Region X Commitment to Safety Award
Irene Porter and Ernest Gubry, Airports Division
(Next in a series as we approach this year’s award banquet on Oct. 24 at Communicating For Safety in Las Vegas.)
Moe Wagner was with his University of Michigan basketball teammates on March 8, 2017, aboard an Ameristar Air Cargo MD-83 as it began its takeoff roll down Runway 23 Left at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich. The aircraft, headed to Washington Dulles for the Big Ten tournament, reached 173 knots. However, due to a mechanical failure, the aircraft did not pitch up and the pilots executed a rejected takeoff.
Wagner wrote about what happened next, in The Players Tribune:
“I just see everyone … this plane full of my Michigan family … with this look on their faces that I don’t even recognize. It’s almost, like, an entire emotion that I’ve never seen before. I immediately turn back around. I lean over to look out the window. We’re careening off the runway and into a field.
“Oh no, I think. Oh, God. Oh no. This is actually happening. We actually might die.”
The aircraft overran the end of Runway 23 Left and stopped on grass, 1,000 feet from the end of the runway. All 109 passengers and seven crew members evacuated the aircraft and only one person suffered minor injuries during evacuation, according to the NTSB.
That Wagner, now a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the other passengers survived this incident is a direct result of the work of NATCA-represented Airports Division (ARP) members Irene Porter and Ernest Gubry. Porter, who recently retired, and Gubry initiated, designed, planned, environmentally cleared, and funded the construction of a fully compliant runway safety area (RSA) at Willow Run. They oversaw and managed the project from initial concept through construction.
For their work, Porter and Gubry will be presented with NATCA’s annual Region X Commitment to Safety Award.
One of the more high profile programs in the Airports Division is the RSA improvement program. Beginning in 2000, Airports Division identified deficient RSAs at commercial service airports, which were considered the highest priority locations. Employees improved 642 deficient RSAs by the congressionally-mandated 2015 deadline at a cost of over $3 billion. Every location with a RSA deficiency involves Airports Division engineers, planners, program managers, environmental protection specialists, financial specialists, compliance staff, and certification inspectors to identify and implement solutions.
“We truly have a team effort in addressing and solving safety-related issues at the airports we oversee across the nation,” said NATCA Airports Division rep Brad Davidson, who notes that ARP is a small group of dedicated aviation safety professionals and has approximately 350 bargaining unit employees spread across the country. “We often hear about the flawed logic that, ‘we have never had an incident or crash here so why do we need to improve our RSAs to meet standards?’
“Well the University of Michigan men’s basketball team can tell you why - because the unexpected can happen at any time. The added margin of safety with the construction of fully compliant RSAs at Willow Run contributed to saving the lives of 109 passengers and seven crew members.”