Airports redoing runway markings

Eight Arkansas airports are putting down new runway and taxiway markings as part of a nationwide effort to reduce the danger of collisions between aircraft and other vehicles on the ground.

Though runway incursions are rare at Arkansas airports, the eight facilities are included in the Federal Aviation Administration directive because they have commercial air service.

The biggest effort in the state will take place at Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field, where officials said they will have to spend up to $60,000 to mark 29 different locations on the airfield by the Dec. 18 deadline set by the FAA.

A Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission committee recommended the expenditure at a meeting Friday. The FAA has said the work will be reimbursed with federal airport improvement money, airport officials said.

The upgraded markings will be placed on all the taxiways that intersect Little Rock National's three runways "to enhance airfield safety," said Ron Mathieu, the airport's deputy executive director.

Reducing runway incursions is among the National Transportation Safety Board's "most wanted" transportation safety improvements. The agency noted earlier this month that "runway safety incidents continue to occur with alarming frequency and consistency." The deadliest accident in aviation history occurred as the result of a runway incursion. The ground collision in 1977 between two fully loaded Boeing 747s in Spain's Canary Islands killed 583 people.

Runway incursions occur when an aircraft, vehicle, person or object creates a situation in which a collision results or is possible. They often occur when planes are preparing to take off or land, according to the FAA.

Though none this year has been fatal, the near collisions still attract notice. On July 11, a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 on arrival at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport touched down and had to take off again to avoid colliding with a United Airlines Airbus A320 that was taxiing to a runway and had missed a turn. On July 5, a Delta Air Lines landing at La Guardia Airport in New York narrowly missed a Delta Air Lines Connection commuter jet that mistakenly had been cleared to taxi across the runway at the same time.

So far in 2007, 24 serious runway incursions have been reported nationwide, eight involving commercial air carriers, the agency said. Between 2003 and 2006, there were 1,306 reported runway incursions at airports with operating control towers compared with 250 million takeoffs and landings. Arkansas airports, however, have seen few runway safety incidents over the past several years, according to FAA data.

Little Rock National, where about 2.5 million passengers depart and arrive each year, had one reported runway incursion in 2006, according to the FAA 2007 Runway Safety Report.

The agency gives the incidents one of four levels of severity. The Little Rock National incident was a Category D, the least severe because there was "little or no chance of collision but meets the definition of a runway incursion." No other details were available on the incident.

The state's largest airport also had two runway incursions in 2004. One was a Category D and the other a Category C in which an aircraft gets too close to other aircraft or ground vehicle "but there is ample time and distance to avoid a potential collision." The only other airport to have a runway incursion since 2003 was Springdale Municipal Airport, which reported a Category D incident.

Figures for 2007 weren't available.

The other state airports falling under the FAA directive are Fort Smith Regional Airport, Texarkana Regional Airport, Boone County Airport in Harrison, Jonesboro Municipal Airport, Hot Springs Memorial Field and Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, said George Downie, president of the Arkansas Airport Operators Association and director of the Hot Springs airport.

"It's a safety issue, and we all totally agree with it," Downie said. "This is a way to let the pilots know they are approaching the intersection of a runway. It's just a little added safety." Airports don't have to be busy like Los Angeles International Airport or John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to be at risk for runway incursions, said Kelly Johnson, director of Northwest Arkansas Regional.

Most susceptible to incursions are airports with more than one runway. At those airports, aircraft often must cross an active runway to get around the airport, Johnson said.

"We're not set up that way," she said. "We have a good airfield configuration." Airport workers who use vehicles on the airfield also undergo annual training in avoiding runway incursions.

Northwest Arkansas Regional already has met the new FAA requirement for enhanced pavement markings. The markings were put down in five locations, Johnson said. The airport happened to have its airfield people working on the markings when the directive came out last month, she said. The work cost $3,000.

"It was good timing," she said. Downie said Hot Springs Memorial will meet the deadline unless "the weather gets too cold and you can't paint." Hot Springs Memorial will require enhanced markings at 12 to 15 locations, Downie said. He had no estimate on the cost.

This article was published 11/17/2007