National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC - National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark V. Rosenker today told a gathering of airport executives that prompt action is needed to prevent potentially catastrophic accidents on the nation's runways.
Speaking at a conference on new developments in airport technology, jointly hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives and the FAA, in Atlantic City, NJ, Rosenker noted that the worst accident in aviation history was a runway collision that cost 583 lives, and that the number of serious runway incursions continues to climb.
He pointed to several recent near-collisions that were avoided only "through flight crew actions sometimes bordering on the heroic - along with a lot of luck. That is not good enough," he said.
Rosenker stated that airport surface operations present some of the most challenging situations for pilots and controllers, and in many cases leave the least room for error. The potential for traffic conflicts, he said, are exacerbated by the numbers of ground support vehicles, including maintenance vehicles, baggage carts, catering trucks, fuel tankers, snow plows and other ground traffic vying for space on a busy airport.
"In the air," said Rosenker, "we try to maintain miles of space between aircraft. But on the tarmac, taxiways and runways, the tolerances are comparatively small; the difference between being in a safe place and an unsafe place is measured in feet, not miles."
Rosenker said that the hazards of airport surface operations have been a concern of the Safety Board for many years, noting that the runway incursion issue has been on the Board's Most Wanted List of safety improvements since its inception in 1990. Board recommendations related to runway incursions have addressed improvements in air traffic control operations, training and hardware, pilot training, airport signage, lighting and markings, aircraft visibility, and incident reporting.
To ensure that all commercial passengers are effectively protected against the dangers of runway incursions, Rosenker said, the Board has urged FAA to develop and demonstrate ground movement safety systems appropriate for use at airports ranging from large international facilities to the smaller regional fields served only by commuter airlines. He said the Board did not expect the answer to be a one- size-fits-all system but would instead "require creative use of different combinations of sensors, processors, and warning methods tailored to the requirements of each situation."
Rosenker acknowledged that delivering effective technological solutions takes time but noted that there are some technologies already available that could help prevent runway incursions. The dangers of incursions are here now, he said, and "the continuing occurrence of hazardous incidents show that we still have work to do."
The complete text of Chairman Rosenker's speech can be found on the Board's web site at www.ntsb.gov.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.