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Union airs alert on guidance signals FAA says glitch is not due to the system but to the terrain

As the investigation into the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 continues, the union representing Southwest Airlines pilots advised its crews of a Federal Aviation Administration alert regarding a problem with signals that guide landings at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The reissued alert, which originally went out to all airlines in late January, indicated a glitch in the FAA's instrument landing system's "glide slope guidance signal" leading to the main runway.

The anomaly involves one of the series of ground-to-plane signals along the runway approach, which falsely indicate aircraft are flying above their actual altitude. The false reading is received as planes approach from the north and make a right turn toward Runway 23.

The Continental Connection flight involved in the Feb. 12 crash would not have been affected by the signal issue. It was traveling in the opposite direction, coming in from the south and turning left.

The pilots union's version of the alert described the signal issue a "potentially significant hazard," language that was not in the original FAA advisory or the alert Southwest passed on to its flight crews.

Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, said the pilots union alert misrepresents a long-standing signal situation for pilots landing at the Buffalo airport. She said the "glitch" is caused by a small valley on the landing path, not a system malfunction.

"It's the result of a geographic feature which has been on the charts for as long as this runway has been in use. It's been part of our standard information to pilots for years," Brown said.

She said it is not unusual for information like this to be taken out of context following accidents.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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