LAX to Get New Runway Safety System to Prevent Accidents

February 28, 2008

The airport with the most near accidents and runway safety violations in the nation will be getting the equivalent of street lights to prevent potential accidents.

The system — called runway status lights — will rely on radar technology and red lights on the pavement at one of Los Angeles International Airport’s four runways and at various taxiways to tell pilots when it is safe to cross them or take off.

“Drivers have stop lights to guide them, so why not pilots?” FAA acting administrator Robert Sturgell asked at a news conference at the airport.

The city paid $6 million for the system and hopes to have it operational by early 2009. It’s being tested at the airport, as well as at San Diego and Dallas/Fort Worth international airports, before the FAA installs it at airports nationwide.

For planes about to land or take off, the lights will blink on if the airport’s ground radar detects another aircraft using the taxiways to cross from one runway to another. For planes waiting to cross a runway, the lights will illuminate if another jet is about to take off or land.

Sturgell said the lights will provide “one more layer of defense” at the airport, which had the most runway incursions of any airport in the nation since 2001. Of the roughly 680,00 takeoffs and landings at the airport last year, there were eight close calls, the FAA said.

“The runway status lights will help when human judgment fails,” he said.

The system has been used at San Diego and Dallas/Fort Worth airports for some time, and it has improved safety at both facilities, Sturgell said.

Community activists, who have long criticized airport officials over safety and traffic management at LAX, welcomed the system.

“I’m elated that they’re recognizing that safety is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. It’s a simple, low-cost and effective solution that could have been done years ago,” said Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion.

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