Ops On Display

MILWAUKEE – In its third year, the AIRPORT BUSINESS Airfield Operations Area (AOA) Expo and Conference held in June across from General Mitchell International Airport features sessions focusing on best practices for airfield operations. Opening the event was keynote D. Kirk Shaffer, FAA’s new associate administrator for airports, to share his hot topics, notably runway incursions.

Shaffer is enthusiastic about the end-around runways that have been working “fabulously” in eliminating 700 taxiway crossings a day at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport and 1,300 at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Shaffer says FAA is currently working on a pilot program to install screening around those taxiways. The intent is to restrict the view of aircraft on the end-around taxiways from the line of sight of pilots preparing to take off on active runways. The end-around runways have created an “optical illusion” that is distracting pilots; screens will help keep the focus on aircraft taxiing on active runways.

EMAS Success
“(FAA) is spending a ton of money on EMAS,” says Shaffer, with installations on 21 runway ends at 16 airports. The agency is currently working on seven more runway ends at four airports, he reports. Shaffer estimates that an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) installation will cost $1.6 to $6 million per runway end. “If you can prevent an accident like Southwest at Midway, that sounds like a bargain basement price to me,” Shaffer says.

Shaffer reports that EMAS systems have had four aircraft captures since 1999 with no injury or loss of life; the only damage to the aircraft was some blown tires.

Pavement Test Center Update
Shaffer encourages industry to visit the National Airport Pavement Test Facility, located at the William J. Hughes Technical Center near Atlantic City, NJ. The facility features real-time, real-weight pavement testing with 900 feet of fully instrumented pavement.

“(Industry) now has the ability to design thinner concrete slabs that can hold more weight,” Shaffer says. “(New pavement designs) could mean an incredible cost savings.”

The test center is also working on better pavement maintenance procedures with a goal to ensure that on average 93 percent of all runways are maintained in good to fair condition, Shaffer says. Currently, 98 percent of commercial runways meet the good to standard, he says.

Safety Mindset
According to Shaffer, “You can’t mention safety too many times, because the consequences are too great.” FAA wants no more than 56 runway incursions in FY 2007, Shaffer says, but industry already has 34 through May. “Runway incursions are all about human error,” Shaffer says. “If there is only one thing that we keep hammering home, it’s the message of training on runway incursions.”

Shaffer cautions that control towers need to be included in safety planning during construction. He cites a recent incident at Dulles International in which airfield construction underneath a tower caused a carbon monoxide leak that led to the evacuation of the tower.

Shaffer also tells airports that they should start developing safety management systems (SMS). FAA is going to fund 12 pilot SMS programs, he says. “SMS is a new mindset about safety and proactively thinking about safety all the time,” he says.

A forward-looking risk analysis should be a part of any new project, and a majority of what should be included in an SMS is already part of airport operations, he points out. “The SMS won’t be much more than filling in gaps and organizing current safety procedures.”

On the Radar
Other points highlighted by Shaffer now under FAA watch:

  • Runway design development for a Class 6 turning radius;
  • Bird strikes — in fiscal year 2005, the industry spent $400 million as a result of strikes;
  • Making sure that all orders and Advisory Circulars are less than five years old;
  • Improved methods for marking lighting, including the use of more visible LED’s.

He encourages industry to subscribe to FAA’s website for email blast updates.

ATCT Communication
Bob Hutson, staff manager of General Mitchell International Airport, during his session focusing on runway incursions, maintains that the primary cause of such events is a communication breakdown and lack of airport familiarity. He suggests offering air traffic controllers (ATCs) day and night tours of the airfield, runways, taxiways, and ramp. Tours or ride-alongs give ATCs a chance to see the airport from a different perspective.

Hutson says the elimination of confusing call signs for vehicles operating in the airfield environment can help prevent communications breakdowns. No two vehicles should have duplicate numbers, he says.

He recommends air traffic and airport managers meet following each snow removal operation and/or unusual event (races, fly-ins, air shows, etc.).

GPS/GIS Technology Solutions
As part of a discussion on ‘GPS/GIS for Supporting Effective Airfield Safety, Operations, and Maintenance,’ Paul Cudmore, chief operating officer/GM at Eagle Integrated Solutions, related that GPS solutions for small airports are best used for resource optimization. And whether at a large or small airport, “technology will help, but never replace good training,” he says.

For airfield solutions, Cudmore points out that GPS can be used for incursion management, navigational incident location, and FOD detection. “(GPS) allows for good visual awareness,” he says. “Using a map-based interface helps identification.”

GPS can be used in runway condition reporting — as a friction device takes readings from the runway, the mapping shows a test date/time stamp related to potential problems, helping to efficiently respond to areas in need.

GPS systems assist in asset tracking, he says, allowing a user to look at where a piece of equipment is, where it’s been, and where it’s scheduled to go. A system can be particularly beneficial in construction areas in terms of asset control both inside and outside the fence, Cudmore says.

Situational Leadership; Best Practices
When faced with a disaster, Jim McCue A.A.E., aviation consultant with Milwaukee-based Sherwin Industries, states that anybody in a leadership role has to take a deep breath, analyze the entire situation, and make sure resources aren’t running around “helter skelter.”

McCue has served as a team member of the National Transportation Safety Board airport operational team for the DC-10 crash in Sioux City, IA, and was managing director of operations at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) for ten of 40 years in airports.

Leading a session on disaster planning, McCue suggested that attempting to lead an entire accident site can be overwhelming. Breaking down the situation and taking a “piecemeal” approach may be more manageable.

When an A-7D military aircraft crashed into a hotel an eighth of a mile from IND, city and airport staff benefitted from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exercise earlier that year. FEMA previously had invited some 60 Indianapolis officials to Bethesda, MD for a basic conference on disaster planning. By day two, officials were curious as to why exactly they had been invited for the week, but then it clicked, McCue says. By the end of the week, all 60 knew each other on a first name basis.

Six months later when the A-7D went down, not one jurisdictional dispute arose. McCue says that because each principal knew the exact person to reach out to for information, there wasn’t a breakdown in communication or any “stepping on toes.”

Up until the crash at Indianapolis, McCue wasn’t a believer of post-traumatic stress syndrome. “I used to think ‘Yeah, c’mon, work it out,’ but after seeing Sioux City, after seeing Indianapolis, it’s a real thing,” he says.

When in charge of a crash site, he says, “you have to maintain composure; you can’t show fright; but you go home at the end of the night, which I did after Indianapolis, and you have nightmares, you see different things,” McCue says.

As part of his session, McCue stressed treating all individuals associated with the incident who require treatment as soon as possible.

Staffing Aircraft Recovery
Staffing aircraft recovery operations is important to an airport’s actual recovery efforts, says George Vickas, president of Chicago-based P-3 Technologies. Vickas served as an operations supervisor at O’Hare International Airport for ten years, coordinating airfield projects and communications among contractor, airline, and airport personnel.

Vickas says sending a person out to a crash site who “is not accustomed to seeing the carnage, body parts, and that type of scenario” can impact staffing at a critical time.

“When [the recovery team] gets out there and you have a person that freezes up, they’re not doing you any good on the airfield when you may have a person sitting inside your operations center or on the field that can handle it,” Vickas says. An operations manager is then faced with two challenges, Vickas says — removing the worker who can’t handle the scene and tracking down another who can.

What departments are likely to be first responders? “What we really look at in our first responders depends on the size of the airport,” Vickas says. “If you’re looking at a larger type airport, it is usually going to roll into the operations or maintenance staff, (persons) that are not emergency personnel, but are normally one of the first people on the scene.”

When it comes to smaller, general aviation airports, the first responders could range from fire and police departments, which are accustomed to similar situations, or it could come down to a single duty manager, Vickas says.

“The effectiveness of an aircraft recovery plan, is so key to the success of the (airport’s recovery). You have a tragic accident, but the unfortunate truth is the airport, when a tragic accident occurs, has to get back open; and if you’re dealing with a small airplane, you’re dealing with the emotional psyche of a private pilot who doesn’t want you to touch his airplane, which may cause further havoc on down the road,” Vickas says.

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