April 03, 2001 11:00 pm

Important questions have been raised about the procedures followed at the Aspen, Colo., airport prior to Thursdays crash of an executive jet that killed all 18 people on board.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating why a warning against nighttime bad-weather landings at that airport apparently never reached Aspens tower.

The FAA had issued its warning two days before the crash. Officials advised that planes should be banned from making night instrument landings at Aspen, where pilots are forced to make a steep descent to a single runway.

Air traffic controllers apparently did not receive the warning. They gave the charters pilot, flying the twin-engine Gulfstream II into Aspen from California, approval for an instrument landing in light snow. The plane crashed a few hundred yards from the runway, killing all on board.

The FAA will try to determine what role the mistake may have played in the crash.

The nation is blessed with a sophisticated weather reporting and forecasting system. The FAA is able to take this information and make informed decisions about the operation of airports. The ban on nighttime bad-weather landings in Aspen was supposed to be distributed by fax by the FAAs Denver office, but there was no record of a fax being sent from the Denver center or one being received by Aspen, according to a National Transportation Safety Board official. What caused the slipup?

Americas flying public will want to follow the investigation carefully. FAA weather-related instructions should get through to the affected airport 100 percent of the time. If there was a faulty communication procedure in Denver or Aspen, why did it happen? Is some kind of communication redundancy needed, such as messages both by fax and by e-mail, and a call back to make sure they are received? There is no room for error when pilot and passenger safety is at stake.


King County, Wash., officials should get down on their knees and beg forgiveness for their short-sighted proposal to limit the size of churches and private school buildings.

Washingtons most populated county proposes to limit new churches and schools in its rural area to 10,000 square feet. Multiple buildings on one parcel of land would be restricted to a total of 20,000 square feet. To put some perspective on the size of buildings the county has proposed, the Island City Wal-Mart store has a little more than 70,000 square feet.

The 10,000 and 20,000-square-foot restriction is unfair. What harm is there in allowing much larger church buildings? These facilities are used mainly on weekends anyway. King County is showing disrespect for people of faith by suggesting their churches be no larger than a typical neighborhood convenience store.