BWI to get new lights to avert collisions

July 15, 2008|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun reporter

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will be one of 20 busy airports nationwide that will get new runway traffic lights to help prevent aircraft collisions on the ground.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that over the next three years it will install the lights, which warn pilots when it is unsafe to cross or enter a runway or taxiway.

The technology is being tested at the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Diego international airports, and a contract could be awarded this fall.

The traffic signals will be embedded in the pavement along the taxiways and entrances of the two intersecting runways BWI uses for commercial aircraft, airport spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

Pilots currently rely on alerts from air traffic controllers during landing and takeoff. The new indicators will send to cockpits more direct information about potential hazards.

"Runway safety is a shared responsibility among the FAA, the airlines and airports," Dean said. "This will provide another layer of safety."

FAA officials have drawn fire from lawmakers for failing to prevent planes from getting too close to each other on airport runways.

Two close calls were reported in the past week at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. At BWI in December, a Comair plane took off 300 feet above a landing America West flight.

In March, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates aviation accidents, blamed the BWI close call on air traffic controller error.

The new system "would have provided one extra layer of defense to catch the error," said Robert Sumwalt, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

"The runway status lights will give the pilots a visual indication that the runway is not safe to be operated on. They would have had red lights to warn them not to take off," he said.

Robert Sturgell, the acting FAA administrator, said that up to $5 million will be provided to test cockpit alert systems in an effort to increase runway safety.

Airlines will have to update their equipment to participate. The cockpit displays could reduce pilot error, the cause of most close calls, Sturgell said.


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