Ops On Display

In Milwaukee, EMAS, improving pavement, and SMS among the topics

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.
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