Runway system not a panacea

FAA Runway Safety Report

Although a warning system approved last month should help, no single technology or procedure can eliminate near misses on the nation's runways — which a new Federal Aviation Administration study shows are on the rise — an FAA official said Wednesday.

Overall, runway incursions — incidents in which the buffer space around an airplane is compromised by other planes, vehicles, people or other objects — are rare, said Bill Davis, program director for the FAA's Office of Runway Safety. Based on data from the FAA's National Airspace Incident Monitoring System, the study found that from 1997 to 2000, there were 1,369 runway incursions at the more than 450 airports reporting such incidents — out of about 266 million flights during that period.

But incursions jumped from 321 in 1999 to 431 last year, and that has the FAA concerned, Davis said. Although almost all of those were categorized on the low end of a new severity scale, Davis said his office must work to reduce those numbers.

"Incursion events are infrequent, but we take them very seriously," he said. "We need to learn how to take those rare events and make them even less [frequent]. That's our mission."

The Airport Movement Area Safety System, approved by the FAA in May for use at 34 airports, is one tool designed to reduce the number of incursions. Using surveillance data from Airport Surface Detection Equipment-3 radar, the airport's surveillance radar and its terminal automation system, AMASS provides tower controllers visual and auditory alerts of potential accidents.

After facing hardware and software delays, the FAA expects to install the system at the 34 airports — among the nation's busiest — by the end of 2002.

However, because of the complexity involved in directing aircraft on the ground, AMASS alone won't prevent all incursions, Davis said.

"We'd like a system to prevent all incursions," he said, but "we don't have, to our knowledge, a procedure or technical system on the horizon now" that can do that. "We're going to have to work on this a piece at a time. A single object, system, technology or procedure will not solve this problem." The new study's results verify that AMASS is being deployed to the most appropriate airports, Davis said. The busiest 32 airports in the study had twice the number of severe incursions than the 400-plus other reporting airports.

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