'Red Light, Green Light' on Airport Runways

July 14, 2008 12:15:14 PM PDT
Last week alone, it happened twice at New York's JFK airport. Two planes narrowly averted disaster as one was taking off and another was circling back around to take a second crack at landing.

The dicey events at JFK are reinvigorating a long-standing call for new technology to modernize air traffic control and improve runway safety.

Today, the Federal Aviation Administration announced plans to prevent runway incursions by enacting the most simple and familiar of fixes: Traffic lights.

Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.

The runway light system is coming soon to 20 more airports around the country, the FAA announced Monday.

The lights will alert pilots when it's unsafe to cross or enter a runway in an effort to do more to prevent runway incursions. Between October and December 2007, there were 10 near-misses on airport runways -- five times the number for the same period the year before.

Still, according to the FAA, the number of serious runway incursions decreased by more than 55 percent between 2001 and 2007.

"Severe runway incursions are down," said Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell on Monday. "And, we're putting technology and procedures in place to keep it that way. We're making changes on the runway and in the cockpit that are going to make a significant difference."

Also on the FAA's list of coming improvements: $5 million to test out displays in the cockpit, also intended to prevent runway disasters.

At JFK, meantime, the FAA has now changed the sequencing so a plane won't land until the plane on the perpendicular runway has taken off. Controllers have long been warning that using perpendicular runways for takeoffs and landing is unsafe.

The FAA has already installed test runway light systems at Dallas Ft. Worth and San Diego International Airports and is now expanding the program.

Other busy airports that will soon receive the new traffic lights include: Atlanta, Baltimore Washington International, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Detroit, Dulles, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston Intercontinental, John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Newark, O'Hare, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Seattle airports.

The FAA said Monday it plans to install the system over the next three years after awarding a contract this fall.


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