FAA tackles runway hazards

No silver bullet exists that will stop aircraft from crossing boundaries

on the runways of the nation's airports and potentially causing disastrous

collisions, a panel of aviation experts said last week.

But a combination of technology, common sense and improved training

will help prevent runway incursions in the future, according to members

of the technology panel at the Federal Aviation Administration's Runway

Safety National Summit in Washington, D.C., June 27.

Runway incursions — which occur when aircraft cross paths and risk collision — continue to increase as air transportation grows. The National Transportation

Safety Board has placed the problem on its 10 most wanted list for a decade,

said Jim Hall, NTSB chairman.

The FAA is working on enhancements to track and identify aircraft and

other vehicles as they move across airport surfaces. Among them is Airport

Surface Detection Equipment, a radar system designed to detect moving objects

on runways. The FAA has also been trying to implement Airport Movement Areas

Safety System software, an enhancement to the radar that adds identification

tags and limited alarm capabilities.

AMASS is several years behind schedule because of software bugs and

problems controllers are having with the frequency of alarms. In the future,

FAA hopes to use Global Positioning System satellite navigation technology

to create moving map displays, which are under development at NASA's Langley

Research Center, Hampton, Va.

These technologies don't prevent incursions, said Steve Zaidman, FAA

associate administrator for research and development. They alert air traffic

controllers to a potential collision, giving them about 20 seconds to react,

he said.

Stephen Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, highlighted

a system that puts pilots in the loop: Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast.

ADS-B collects GPS position data and broadcasts it on screens in control

towers and aircraft. UPS Aviation Technologies intends to equip its fleet

of 230 large aircraft with ADS-B by December 2002, he said.

However, many solutions that will increase situational awareness for

pilots and controllers are fairly low-tech, Zaidman said.

The aviation community needs to look seriously at low-tech solutions

because 69 percent of surface deviations are caused by general aviation

aircraft and not commercial carriers, said Phil Boyer, president of the

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

"Technology is not a panacea when we look at general aviation," Boyer

said. AOPA is on a campaign to improve awareness and introduce precautions

such as having pilots voluntarily stop their aircraft before crossing runways.

Simple solutions, such as installing fences and "looking out the window,"

may be the most effective, said Bill Blackmer, director of safety and technology

for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Low-tech solutions

also include education and training that will improve the awareness of air

traffic controllers, pilots and operations vehicle drivers.

As for high-tech help, some solutions are not as far off as they seem,

said Michael Lewis, director of the Aviation Safety Program at NASA Langley.

NASA is working on surface-display technology that provides an electronic

moving map on a heads-up display. The maps create a synthetic vision system

by integrating surface situational awareness and runway incursion alerting

systems.

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