Airline industry aims to improve ground safety

/ Source: The Associated Press

Several dozen airports painted brighter runway markings, airlines began new pilot training and regulators agreed to order clearer taxiing instructions as part of a two-month industrywide effort to improve aircraft safety on the ground.

Acting Federal Aviation Administrator Bobby Sturgell reported Monday on the progress since Transportation Secretary Mary Peters ordered the emergency push in August after a spate of near-misses at airports.

"Our runways are safe, and the call to action ratcheted that up a notch," Sturgell said. He announced:

  • 52 of the 75 largest airports, which handle 90 percent of U.S. air passengers, and 24 smaller airports have painted new, brighter runway center lines. Others are planning to repaint and the FAA is preparing to require the rest of the 569 airports it regulates to follow suit soon.
  • 20 airports with high incident histories have completed safety reviews.
  • 104 of 112 airlines have begun new pilot training with simulator scenarios that include complex taxiing instructions and distractions like trucks on the tarmac.
  • 101 airlines have reviewed cockpit procedures to keep takeoff checklists from distracting pilots after the aircraft is rolling.
  • The FAA has decided to require controllers to give more explicit taxiing instructions to pilots, including a route to their runway, not merely which runway to use.
  • The FAA is also proposing a new penalty-free safety incident reporting system for controllers and plans to introduce new electronic ground-movement-monitoring equipment in 2010, instead of 2011.

Sturgell began with a sunny review of the overall safety data: The two most serious kinds of runway mistakes declined to an all-time low of 24 in the last 12 months, from 31 the previous fiscal year. Only the least serious kind — ones with no danger of a collision — rose and Sturgell attributed that to better reporting.

Despite the overall numbers, Peters had summoned industry leaders to action after some dramatic near misses and failures, including:

  • A Delta Boeing 757 touched down in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., July 11 and had to take off immediately to avoid hitting a United Airbus A320 that had mistakenly turned onto its runway.
  • A Delta Boeing 737 landing at New York's LaGuardia airport July 5 narrowly missed a commuter jet mistakenly cleared to taxi across its runway.
  • A Comair jet took off from a too-short runway in Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 27, 2006, killing 49 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the LaGuardia and Fort Lauderdale incidents and four other near-misses at airports this year — two in Denver, and one each in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The FAA has yet to implement all the NTSB recommendations from the Lexington crash.