IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

High rate of aircraft near-collisions blasted

Aviation safety investigators, dissatisfied with U.S. government efforts to improve runway safety, urgently pressed regulators Tuesday to accelerate development of new technology to reduce hundreds of aircraft near-collisions each year.
/ Source: Reuters

Aviation safety investigators, dissatisfied with U.S. government efforts to improve runway safety, urgently pressed regulators Tuesday to accelerate development of new technology to reduce hundreds of aircraft near-collisions each year.

There were 324 incursions or near-collisions involving all types of aircraft in the year ended Sept. 30 — about the same as the previous 12 months — and at least 34 through the first week of November, the National Transportation Safety Board said at its annual hearing on its most-wanted safety improvements.

The most recent example involving two carriers, US Airways and Comair, occurred Nov. 9 in Fort Lauderdale, safety board officials said. A US Airways plane aborted its landing at the last second to avoid a Comair regional jet on the runway. US Airways Flight 1251 had clearance to land and missed the Comair plane by 100 feet.

Comair is a unit of Delta Air Lines .

'Urgent need to reduce the hazard'
“While the majority of incursions present little to no collision risk, a significant number of high-risk incidents continue to occur,” said Sandy Rowlett, a deputy safety board operations chief. “There is an urgent need to reduce the hazard presented to the public by these events.”

The three-member board voted unanimously to keep the runway safety issue on its priority list, and expressed frustration with the Federal Aviation Administration for not moving promptly enough over the years to develop and deploy an effective anti-collision network.

Further annoying board members was the disclosure that the FAA will slow additional delivery of its most updated runway warning system for four years — to 2011 — because of budget constraints.

“We need to do all we can to put pressure on FAA, airports and the industry to push for a safer system and better monitoring,” said board member Debbie Hersman.

The board again pressed the FAA for a warning system that would go directly to the cockpit rather than air traffic controllers, who currently must relay runway hazards to airline crews via radio.

FAA cites progress
But the FAA said it has made progress in reducing the most serious near-collisions by 40 percent over five years, and is evaluating a system of runway lights that would change color when aircraft are moving on the ground to give pilots a more immediate picture of runway activity.

NTSB staff members noted three incidents in the past six months at Boston, New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and Las Vegas that current FAA warning systems did not prevent.

“Catastrophic accidents were prevented only by last-second efforts by a vigilant flight crewmember,” Rowlett said. “We believe that a direct warning to the pilots would have prevented or mitigated the risk of each incident.”

In the near-collision at McCarran airport in Las Vegas in September, an America West Airlines plane thundering down the runway on its nighttime take-off pulled up and over an Air Canada plane that had crossed its path.

Controllers had inadvertently cleared the America West jet for takeoff and given Air Canada permission to cross the runway at the same time.