EAST ELMHURST, Queens - When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Port Authority broke ground on a $6 billion LaGuardia Airport rebuild, they promised a totally new LaGuardia.
"It's going to be a whole new airport," Cuomo announced.
It's the largest infrastructure project in the state and will include a new unified terminal with world-class dining and retail, brand new gates, and roadways. The runways, however, will remain the same: notoriously short.
"No room for errors," according to Bob Ober, a retired airline Captain with thousands of LaGuardia take-offs and landings during his 35-year career. "You can slide off the end of the runway real easy."
Former test pilot and retired commercial airline Captain, JP Tristani said, "LaGuardia has a fierce reputation among pilots because of the complexity and stopping distance of its runways."
When LaGuardia opened in 1939, its short 7,000-feet runways were fine for prop planes. In the age of jets, however, they fail to measure up.
"The runways are less safe," Tristani said, "not unsafe, they are less safe than other airports."
In the past, Governor Cuomo has claimed that "LaGuardia is limited by runway space... what you have is what you have in terms of runway space."
But Ober claims that's simply not true.
"There's nothing that would stop you from extending the runways no obstructions, no navigable waters," Ober said. "It's a question of political will to do it."
The Port Authority in response to our investigation said, "LaGuardia's runways are fully compliant with all FAA safety guidelines. We've also added arrestor beds which are blocks of compressible concrete that safely slow planes that go past the end of the runways."
Pilots say Cuomo, Port Authority putting convenience and comfort ahead of safety
In 2016, a plane carrying Vice-Presidential candidate Mike Pence skidded off the runway and into an arrestor bed in one of several close calls in recent years at the airport.
In 2015, a plane filled with passengers skidded off a snow-covered runway, stopping just feet from the water.
A search of a government database of anonymous pilot reports reveals many cases of close calls at LaGuardia where short runways may have come into play.
One pilot of a 737 landing at the airport wrote in his report, "The approach had left us shaken... due to the runway length." In another report, a pilot forced to abort his landing was placed back into congested airspace and into the path of another plane. He wrote, "This is it, we are going to hit the other plane. I was waiting to hear the crunch of metal."
Pilots we've spoken to say arrestor beds are helpful but the real fix is lengthening the runways. which many have likened to landing on an aircraft carrier.
Both Retired Captains Ober and Tristani are at a loss as to why $6 billion would be spent on luxury and nothing on safety.
"You haven't done one thing with all those billions of dollars to improve what the airport is really there for: to move airplanes safely and efficiently," Tristani said.
The Port Authority says that as recently as last month, LaGuardia "posted stellar results in its most recent FAA airport certification."
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