Two Promising Technologies Being Implemented to Reduce Runway Incursions in response to NTSB Most Wanted List

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ARTICLES: Runway Safety Lights Now Operational at Dulles; Airport Vehicle Movements Become Easier To Track

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According to NTSB, while the number of serious runway incursions has decreased from 67 in fiscal year 2000 to 7 in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2011, the total number of incursions have remained constant at approximately 975 runway incursions per year national. For that reason the NTSB Top 10 Most Wanted list and the Board recommended a multiple approach response to the problem.

Two reports yesterday noted such multi-pronged attacks on runway incursions. Redundancy is such an oft used phrase in aviation that the word is repetitive.

At Dulles International Airport controllers will continue to give clearances to aircraft landing, taking off and taxiing, but now runway status lights (RWSLs) will reinforce those warnings. They are a series of colored lights embedded in the runway and taxiway pavement that will repeat the oral instruction with visual reminders. Red lights, signifying that use of this concrete, will be turned on by computers relying on ATC ground surveillance systems to warn aircraft not to enter the area.

A second effort started in Denver and St. Louis involves tracking movements of vehicles (cars, trucks and aircraft) with special ADS-B equipment. This Vehicle movement area transmitters (Vmats) technology will create visual displays for both controllers and pilots. This, too, should diminish the likelihood of runway incursions.

“Belt and suspenders” is a common approach to aviation safety. It would be interesting to see if implementing both RWSLs and Vmats create marginal benefits to deter runway incursions.

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