Pilots responding to a newspaper survey rated Los Angeles International as the most dangerous airport in the country but cautioned it's hard to judge safety because individual workers can make all the difference.
Results of the survey of commercial pilots, published in Monday's editions of The Atlanta Constitution, listed Dallas-Fort Worth as the safest.Many of the responses cautioned, however, that rating airport safety is a tricky endeavor, the newspaper said.
"It can be compared to the question, `Where is the safest place to drive a car?' Texas has great long and wide roads (that are) well lit. But you better watch out because an animal or human with a gun might ruin your whole day. The key is pilot complacency," said a Trans World Airlines pilot.
The newspaper in February and March polled 2,200 pilots who hold air transportation certificates, asking them to list in no particular order the five safest and least safe airports.
The newspaper said 1,360 pilots responded, many of them adding written comments. The report did not include how many times a particular airport was named, although it listed them in descending order of the number of votes they got.
In addition to Los Angeles International, the airports listed as the five least safe were Washington's National, New York's LaGuardia, Chicago's O'Hare (which also made the most safe list) and, in a tie, San Diego's Lindbergh Field and Denver's Stapleton International.
In addition to the Texas airport, listed among the five safest facilities were O'Hare, Hartsfield-Atlanta International, Washington's Dulles and Seattle Tacoma.
Despite noting that the competence of individual airport employees can substantially influence the safety of an airport, some of the facilities were singled out as undesirable.
Some of the harshest criticism was reserved for Washington's National, where pilots expressed displeasure with that airport's noise abatement procedures and the ban on flying over national monuments.
National's noise rules require pilots to cut power on takeoff while performing relatively tricky maneuvers at uncomfortably low altitudes.
"This is particularly a consideration when aircraft are departing for long flights and may be loaded to or near maximum allowable weight," wrote a Pan Am pilot with 22 years experience. "Power loss in conjunction with low-altitude maneuvering and even minimal wind shear or turbulence could be disastrous."
The rule about national monuments makes pilots take awkward routes in and out of the airport, poll returns said.
National, the airport of choice for congressmen and lobbyists, remains open "only . . . for political convenience," one pilot said.
Los Angeles International also drew the ire of many respondents. Among the problems at that airport, pilots said, was its varied mix of small planes and jumbo jets.
"Any airport that mixes light aircraft and commercial jet aircraft is less safe in direct proportion to the number of light aircraft using the facility," one pilot wrote. "Light aircraft are difficult to see and often do not show up on air traffic control radar.
"Outside of weather-related hazards, the greatest threat to air travel is the midair collision."
Chicago's O'Hare stood out for making both the five-safest and five-most dangerous lists.