System aims to avert collisions on runways

It's a heart-stopping image, yet one that is all too possible at any of the nation's congested airports: Two jets, packed with passengers, take off simultaneously on converging runways and crash in a fireball. In an effort to prevent such a...


The FAA convened an emergency summit the day before the first Los Angeles incident to devise short-term solutions, while promising to step up research into more sweeping safeguards using new technologies.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been prodding the FAA for several years to work with the private sector to create a system that warns pilots of potential runway conflicts between aircraft.

FAA and NTSB officials keenly observed some of the demonstrations in Syracuse last week, but they were careful to avoid issuing an endorsement.

"While we welcome the development of new technology that furthers the board's efforts to improve aviation safety, we don't evaluate any specific product. We will leave that to the FAA," said safety board spokesman Peter Knudson.

Crash scenarios programmed

More than 40 potentially fatal accident scenarios have been programmed into the Honeywell- Sensis prototype cockpit alerting system, officials said. They include a case in which a plane strays onto an active runway just as another plane is descending to land.

"Runway occupied! Runway occupied,'' the computer voice alerts the pilot of the airborne plane, providing time to power up the engines and circle for a second landing attempt.

The advance warning to pilots can range from 15 seconds to 45 seconds, depending on the speed of the aircraft and other factors, Lo Brutto said.

Looking ahead, long-range strategies are aimed at flowing data to pilots that give them a fuller picture of what is going on at any airport they fly to, whether it is O'Hare or a one-runway airport in the middle of Oklahoma.

"There is no silver bullet to preventing runway incursions. But ultimately we envision a system where there is a moving map in the aircraft that has a picture of the airport surface and your position on it, along with all the other aircraft," said Rick Berckefeldt, marketing manager of aerospace safety systems at Honeywell.

"That's the dream state we all want to get to."

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

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