updated 6/12/2009 11:47:17 AM ET 2009-06-12T15:47:17

A new warning system designed to prevent runway accidents was unveiled Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport, which has been plagued for years by close calls and other safety violations on its runways and taxiways.

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The $7 million runway status lights system relies on radar and red lights on the pavement of one runway and eight taxiways to tell pilots when it is safe to cross or take off. The lights blink on if the ground radar detects a potential conflict between two planes or an aircraft and a vehicle.

Once the lights are on, pilots and motorists traveling on airport roads must obtain clearance from air traffic controllers before proceeding.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the lights, which began operating in April, provide critical safety improvements at the airport, which for eight years had the most runway safety violations in the nation. The airport has four parallel runways with associated taxiways.

"This system has proved that it is highly effective in preventing potentially dangerous runway incidents from occurring," Wes Timmons, the FAA's director of runway safety, said.

The lights, which were first tested at San Diego and Dallas-Fort Worth airports, have been shown to reduce runway incursions, the FAA said. The number of close calls at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport dropped from 10 in the 2 1/2 years before the lights were installed to three during the 2 1/2 years after they came on.

The FAA planned to install the safety lights at about 20 other airports across the country.

Los Angeles airport officials said they decided to pay for the system with airport revenue rather than wait for federal money so it could start operating about three years earlier than would have been possible otherwise.

There has been no decision on whether to add the warning system to the airport's other three runways and their taxiways.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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