Levi's Stadium Lights Presenting Safety Hazard at San Jose Airport
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Santa Clara, California's Levi's Stadium — home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and February's Super Bowl 50 — has been open for just over a year, but already the stadium appears to be causing problems for airline pilots.
NBC Bay Area reported that there have been at least half of a dozen complaints filed by pilots approaching nearby San Jose Mineta International Airport expressing concern about the brightness of the lights coming from the stadium.
The venue, which is located just a few short miles from the airport, sits directly in the flight path of planes landing on runway 30-L.
Commercial pilot Christina Kurowicki described the lights as "blinding" and "incapacitating" amid a challenging landing at the airport back in March.
"The captain I was flying with noticed where it was coming from and we heard other pilots in the area complaining about the lights coming from the stadium," she told NBC. "And at that point all we were really worried about was getting the aircraft on the ground safely."
In a statement to NBC, Federal Aviation Administration public affairs manager Ian Gregor said that a majority of the reports filed in 2014 were related to "scoreboard testing and calibration" at the stadium.
"The FAA relayed these concerns to the stadium operator, which agreed to provide the FAA with advance notice of all scoreboard testing and not to test or calibrate it at night during scheduled airfield hours," the statement read. "Additionally, pilots are alerted that they can expect bright lights when they're flying near the stadium, through Notices to Airmen, the San Jose International Airport facility directory and recorded information on the airport's pilot information system."
While the agency denied knowledge of any complaints since last year, Gregor confirmed that the FAA and stadium officials continue to communicate ahead of every game or event.
The 49ers also emphasized cooperation in a statement of their own.
"We have a great appreciation for the FAA and have worked with them to establish protocols and guidelines in the event the boards need to be recalibrated," the team said. "Our top priority is always to maintain the highest level of safety and security for all guests visiting Levi's Stadium as well as the general public."
Despite those recent efforts, Kurowicki and other pilots who have flown the path over the stadium as recently as this month told NBC that the lights are still problematic.
Former airline pilot and current aviation safety expert Jay Rollins told NBC that stadium officials should install shielding at the very least, adding that, "to leave it as it is, to me, invites trouble."
"We know that it cost a lot of money to build that stadium, but safety has to be first," pilot Jim Clarkson told NBC. "So if we have to reduce the wattage, if we have to put a cap over the lights, maybe we even have to limit when we turn them on."
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