FAA Says Progress Being Made On Runway Safety

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FAA says progress being made on runway safety

By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press Writer

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Under pressure to reduce close calls on airport runways, federal aviation officials say they are making progress. The numbers tell a different story.

Over the past year, the National Transportation Safety Board says 23 of the most serious types of runway incursions occurred at U.S. airports. A recent incident in Allentown, Pa., is expected to push that to 24 — the same number of serious incursions as last year.

Defined as an event in which any aircraft, vehicle or person intrudes in space reserved for takeoff or landing, runway incursions are a top safety concern internationally and among U.S. air safety officials.

And Thursday, a congressional panel will hear from the Federal Aviation Administration, airline pilots and air traffic controllers about steps taken to prevent collisions.

The FAA is expected to cite a series of initiatives taken to boost runway safety, including:

_Installation of electronic mapping equipment in the cockpits of 80 airliners, belonging to four airlines, that will provide the position of the aircraft while on the ground.

_Installation of runway status lights over the next three years at 21 airports to signal pilots when a runway is safe to enter or cross.

_Plans for a satellite-based map system on all commercial airliners that will show pilots the location of their aircraft in the air and on the ground, as well as the positions of other planes.

In December, congressional investigators warned that air travelers face a high risk of a catastrophic collision on U.S. airport runways because of faltering federal leadership, malfunctioning technology and overworked air traffic controllers.

NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said he applauds the steps the FAA has taken to reduce runway accidents but worries they may not be enough to head off a disaster.

"The runway incursion issue is the thing that keeps me up at night," Rosenker said.

"We have been very close in recent years to seeing a terrible collision," he said. "We have been very fortunate that the airmanship and the seconds in which pilots have had to react have averted potentially catastrophic results."

In the 1990s, as air traffic soared and airports grew busier, the number of serious runway incursions rose, peaking in 2001 at 53 incidents. However, a spate of 10 severe runway incursions late last year prompted concern among aviation officials and in Congress.

Since 1990, 112 people have died in seven U.S. runway incursions, according to the NTSB.

The deadliest disaster in commercial aviation history was a runway incursion in 1977, when 582 were killed in the ground collision of two Boeing 747s operated by Pan American and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines at the Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands.
 
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