Aviation expert calls LaGuardia runway damage 'real worst case scenario ready to happen'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Flights at LaGuardia are running on schedule with no residual effects from Wednesday's emergency runway repair.

But questions still linger as to what caused this to happen.

"You had a failure in the runway that caused, not a pothole, 8 foot by 2 foot is a gulch," said J.P. Tristani, an Aviation Consultant.

Tristani, a consultant with more than 43 years in military and commercial aviation and more than 30,000 hours of flying time, sees this runway emergency as very rare.

At one of the busiest times of the day, a pilot radioed the tower to report debris on runway 13.

"Do you have enough room to depart?" ATC asked.

"We'll be good with it, but it looks like a piece of concrete off the number 3 on the runway has completely blown off," the pilot said.

"There was a real worst case scenario ready to happen," Tristani said.

The runway was immediately shutdown backing up flights for hours and ultimately canceling other flights.

The Port Authority says work crews spent several hours making the repair in the vital runway, and Tristani is left with questions.

"Does the Port of Authority sweep the runways on a scheduled time basis? And do they also, due to inclement weather or any time, do an unscheduled sweep?" Tristani said.

Eyewitness News posed these questions to the Port Authority.

The damage fortunately was spotted in daylight averting, Tristani believes, foreign objects damaging planes landing and taking off.

"At any point in time you could be causing a serious consequence to occur with an aircraft," Tristani said.

He also believes the freeze and thaw during an even mild winter like we've had can create a problem and the need to closer inspect runways.

"There had to be indications of it. So again, it's the procedure that counts," Tristani said.

The Port Authority says the damage to the runway was likely caused by the record breaking warmth and jet blast. What broke apart was a protective coating on top of the concrete runway that measured about a half inch deep. They maintain that it was not a pothole.

"Runway inspections are performed at LaGuardia a minimum of three times each day. On Wednesday, the runways were last inspected approximately a half hour prior to a pilot's report of what looked like small pieces of pavement scattered on a portion of the runway surface where pilots position their aircraft for takeoff. Preliminary findings indicate it is likely the suddenly warm weather and jet blast from engines caused a section of epoxy coating used to protect the runway to break up. A decision was then made to close the runway and initiate an emergency repair," the Port Authority said in a statement.
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