Daily Breeze

November 3, 2005

LAX to get new safety technology
A national board says plane crews should also get the collision warnings that air traffic controllers receive.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- New technology designed to avert runway collisions will be deployed at Los Angeles International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday.

LAX has been plagued by runway close calls and federal safety officials have been pressing for improvements there and at other airports. But the new system, which also is being deployed at 14 other airports, apparently falls short of a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board that airplane crews receive collision warnings at the same time as air traffic controllers.

The new system, known as Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X, or ASDE-X, uses radar and powerful sensors that can detect planes that otherwise would be obstructed from the view of the control tower, said FAA spokesman Donn Walker.

It will also integrate an existing ground radar technology used at LAX called the Airport Movement Areas Safety System, or AMASS. A less sophisticated version of ASDE-X is already used at the airport.

Walker called the new system "a much more powerful set of eyes" for air traffic controllers.

"It can see more things on the airfield. It basically gives the controllers in the tower almost complete and unrestricted vision," he said.

It is uncertain when the system will be installed at LAX. Among the airports that were part of Wednesday's announcement, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will be the first to get the system, in January 2006.

The NTSB has repeatedly recommended the development of safety systems that provide direct warnings to pilots when there are "runway incursions." FAA and safety board officials said ASDE-X apparently does not include that capability.

"Our issue is that warnings need to go directly to the flight crews," Lauren Peduzzi, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, said. "Any system that does not do that falls short of NTSB recommendations."

The NTSB highlighted the recommendation late last year, during a hearing that examined an August 2004 incident at LAX when an incoming Asiana Airlines Boeing 747 came within 185 feet and several seconds of crashing into a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that was waiting to take off on the same runway.

"My understanding is it does not provide a cockpit warning," said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group.

However, she said the association has been consulted on the deployment of the new system and believes it has the potential to reduce runway incursions and improve safety.

"We're a supporter," she said.

Walker said commercial airliners have collision indicators and ASDE-X "will be a great improvement over the system we have in place now. We're getting something that's going to be much better and more powerful."

The system, originally designed for smaller airports, is currently used in Houston, Orlando, Fla., Milwaukee and Providence, R.I. It integrates data from radar, sensors and airplane transponders "to create a continuously updated map of all airport-surface operations," the FAA announcement said.

The system will be particularly helpful at night and during bad weather, the agency said. Airports were selected based on air traffic loads and the complexity of their runways and taxiways.