AMONG THE 32 BUSIEST U.S. airports, Los Angeles and O’Hare both had five of these most serious incidents from 1997 through 2000. Los Angeles also had a high proportion of runway incidents that ranked lower on a four-tiered scale of severity, the FAA said.
Near-misses are rare, and accidents even rarer — there were three runway collisions during the period studied and two involved airport ground vehicles, said Bill Davis, FAA’s chief for runway safety. But his agency is working to reduce the number of close calls. “The numbers are small, but we take them very seriously,” Davis said.
Airline pilots agree. “Runway incursions are the number one safety concern for pilots in this country today and we need to take action in that area,” said John O’Brien, of the Airline Pilots Association.
“Once you land on the ground, anything can happen,” added Robin Wascher, a ground traffic controller who was on duty in Los Angeles in 1991, when more than 30 died as two planes collided on the runway. “People make mistakes, Pilots make wrong turns, controllers misidentify aircrafts, anything can happen.”
Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., and Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix had three near-misses on its runways, according to the FAA report. New York’s La Guardia and Dallas-Fort Worth International experienced two a piece. Davis noted these most serious near-accidents at airports, where one plane crosses the path of another vehicle, stayed at about the same level over the four-year period, but the number of less-serious incidents rose in the final year of the survey.
The study ranked more than 1,300 incidents in four categories, from the most serious that required extreme maneuvers to avoid and those with “significant potential” for a crash, down to those in which there was ample time for corrective action or were “barely significant.”
NOT JUST SMALL PLANES
The FAA, which sets aviation standards, has said most runway incursions involve small, private aircraft. However, the safety board is investigating several close calls this year involving airliners at big airports.
Last month, an American Airlines jet on its takeoff roll narrowly missed a cargo plane that had crossed the runway in Dallas.
Carol Carmody, the safety board’s acting chairwoman, said runway incursions were at about the same level as last year when 429 were reported nationally. There were 321 in 1999.
Davis said there was no direct relationship between how busy an airport is and how many runway incidents it has, even though the 32 busiest had twice the number of the two most severe categories as the rest of the 459 airports in the study.
The report found that some airports with relatively low traffic volume had relatively high numbers of the most severe incidents. Daytona Beach International in Florida had three such incursions, and there were two at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International in Covington, Ky.
Among the busiest airports, Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, D.C., was a bright spot, with no entries in the three most serious categories, and only four in the lowest-risk category.
AIRPORT LAYOUT PROS, CONS
Davis suggested this might be related to the layout at Dulles, where planes have little need to cross over runways as they taxi. He contrasted this with configurations at Los Angeles International and Lambert International in St. Louis, Mo., where runway crossovers are more common.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which makes recommendations on safety improvements, put the problem of so-called runway incursions at the top of its list of “most wanted” air safety improvements. The FAA has been conducting pilot education campaigns and rolling out new equipment to help controllers track airport movements.
Carmody said: “They still have not addressed recommendations we made last summer.” Last year’s recommendations included air-traffic control proposals involving aircraft clearance procedures and standardized language for radio communications.
Reuters and NBC’s News’ Jim Avila contributed to this report.
Maybe flying isnt the most dangerous part of air travel, just manourvering around the airport will be more life threatening!!! Remember the worlds worst air accident happened when both aircraft remained on the ground (Tenerife)