FAA to install incursion prevention system at troublesome LAX

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In attempt to stem its runway incursion problem, Los Angeles World Airports, operator of Los Angeles International Airport, will pay $6 million for a prevention system that controls embedded red lights at runway ends and runway/taxiway intersections that signal pilots to stop before taking off or entering an occupied runway.

“LAX has had the most runway incursions of any airport in the country since 2001,” says FAA acting administrator Bobby Sturgell. “There were eight of them last year, just as there were in ’06 and ’05.”

For its part, the FAA will install, test, evaluate and maintain the Runway Status Light (RWSL) system along the airport’s twin sets of parallel runways, including high-speed exit taxiways, a first for RWSL.

Prototype RWSL systems, which are automatically controlled by two types of radar-based ground surveillance systems, are operating at Dallas Forth Worth International Airport and at San Diego International Airport.

The US DOT’s Office of Inspector General in January issued a report stating that during the 29 months after the prototype RWSL system was installed on a runway at DFW in 2005, incursions decreased by 70% from 10 to three, compared to the previous 29 months.

Sturgell during a press conference in Los Angeles yesterday elaborated on a recent success story of at DFW. “A few weeks ago, a commercial flight was taxiing into position, about to take off. At that very moment, another plane was about to cross the runway that it was on,” he explains.

“But instead of taking off, the first aircraft stayed right where it was, thanks to the red runway status lights – the same lights that we’ll be installing at the Los Angeles airport,” Sturgell notes.

Though RWSL will help at Los Angeles Sturgell said the “first line” of defence for runway incursions at the airport will be to change the layout of the runways on the north side of the airport. The airport operator is currently redeveloping the southern portion of the airport, putting more space between the parallel runways and adding a taxiway in the middle.

The airport had intended to do the same with the closely-spaced parallel runways on the north side of the airport, but lawsuits have forced operator Los Angeles World Airports to reconsider the possible alternatives.

Contracts have been awarded for the RWSL system at Los Angeles and construction will start this summer, says Sturgell, with operational testing set to begin in early 2009.