Several commercial pilots have filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), after being blinded by “incapacitating” lights at the 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara, California.
One of the six plaintiffs is pilot Christina Kurowichi, who experienced such an incident in March, upon making preparations for landing her plane at the San Jose Mineta International Airport.
Levi’s sports arena is just north of the airport, and in close proximity to one of its runaways. As a result, flashing lights were coming from it, as the plane reached lower altitudes. Due to these bright beams, Kurowichi’s vision was impaired and she could hardly complete her routine procedures, and bring the aircraft safely on the ground.
According to her, the excessive lighting emanating from the stadium represents a safety hazard for aircraft. A similar grievance was filed by a plane captain with NASA, claiming that “extreme visual distraction” caused by the sports arena’s intense illumination resulted in “flicker vertigo for pilots”.
Even more disturbingly, another plaintiff declared a stadium sign might be misidentified as the actual runaway during unfavorable weather conditions, causing the aircraft to crash into the audience.
FAA public affairs manager Ian Gregor responded to the allegations by explaining that last year the agency circulated a safety-alert bulletin among pilots, informing them about the lights. NASA has also distributed safety-alert bulletins to the FAA, Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority and San Jose Mineta International Airport.
Most of the complaints that have been recorded by the FAA concerned a period when Levi’s scoreboard was being recalibrated, causing it to be function at extra bright capacity.
As a result, the agency required the stadium operator to stop performing such tests at night, during scheduled flights, so as not to distract pilots. In addition, the 49ers’ sports arena was asked to provide the FAA with a timetable of its following recalibrations.
Other pilots still warn that current preventative measures are not enough, and the stadium should play a more active role in eliminating the potential danger posed by abnormal brightness.
“They really have to choose between whether the lights in the stadium and the excitement that goes on there is more important than the safety of these arrivals”, declared Jay Rollins, an ex-pilot for the American Airlines who is now the owner of an aviation safety consulting business.
As stadium representatives have declared, there haven’t been any incidents since that time when the video boards were undergoing maintenance; however, a report was filed in December 2014, long after the repairs were finalized.
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