Levi’s Stadium Blinding Lights Prompt Collision Course with Airlines

Levi's Stadium AP
Jeff Chiu/AP

Some airplane pilots complain that lights from Levi’s Stadium, which sits directly in the flight path of a runway  at San Jose Mineta International Airport, create a serious hazard and may be a disaster waiting to happen.

The lights distract so much that one commercial airline pilot landing a Gulfstream 550 claimed that she lost all of her night vision. Christina Kurowicki recounted that, at one point she and her co-pilot worried about getting the aircraft on the ground safely.

Kurowicki explained, “At first I couldn’t really tell where it was coming from, we just knew that we were getting beams of light in our eye.”

Eventually the pilots realized that the “blinding” lights emanated from the stadium that serves as home for the San Francisco 49ers and hosts Super Bowl 50 in 2016. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara replaced the team’s former San Francisco venue, Candlestick Park, in 2014.

The pilots were livid about having to negotiate the “incapacitating” lights that they each filed a report with the FAA. Kurowick complained that the lights were so bright she got a headache and her captain required medical treatment.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reported that in Kurowicki’s report, she detailed that the stadium lights created a blind spot in her field of vision and that she relied merely on instruments until about 100 feet above ground level.

The month-long investigation unveiled at least five other instances of pilots complaining about Levi’s lights. Moreover, the complaints prompted NASA to send two different safety alert bulletins to the FAA, San Jose Mineta International Airport, and Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority.

In one of the other incidents, a pilot for a commercial 737 airplane  described that “the extremely bright stadium board display lights were on at full illumination and were an extreme visual distraction to us and other pilots on final approach.” The pilot communicated to NASA that the stadium board may pose a “flicker vertigo for pilots.”

A worst case scenario, according to the pilot, the stadium scoreboard “could be very easily mistaken for the PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator) runway 12R under poor visibility conditions… leading an unsuspecting crew to mistakenly correct to the left while descending and subsequently put them on a collision course with the stadium itself.”

Former American Airlines pilot, Jay Rollins, who owns his own aviation safety consulting business, argues that the 49ers need to correct the situation. “I think at a very minimum the stadium should be installing shielding,” the 20-year-veteran pilot said. “And as I sit here I hope that’s exactly what’s going on, because to leave it as it is, to me, invites trouble.”

The 49ers’ issued a statement saying: “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. 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.”


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