FAA Sending Specialists to Unravel Runway Issues at Logan Airport

Oct. 7--Federal aviation officials said yesterday that they plan to send a team of about a dozen specialists to Logan International Airport next week to try to unravel a spate of runway incidents over the past year.

Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration had planned to send a smaller team to Logan after two runway incursions in eight days, the most recent of which was on Tuesday. They made the decision to upgrade the probe yesterday after prodding from the Massachusetts Port Authority, whose leaders worry that the trend is a portent of a serious collision.

FAA officials said yesterday the increase in runway incidents at Logan is alarming, when compared with runway safety records at other airports.

Members of the team have expertise in several areas, including runway safety, air traffic, and flight standards, Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, said yesterday.

The team plans to examine all 16 runway incidents since Oct. 1, 2004, to try to spot any common causes, as well as to examine possible factors such as lighting and radar.

Brown said another group would analyze pilot and control tower procedures, as well as "cultural issues" within Logan, including how well controllers work with one another.

The effort "basically represents the entire FAA," Brown said. "There's no one-size-fits-all solution to runway incursions."

FAA officials said yesterday they will also look at the number of flights at Logan. While air traffic remains below levels before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is rising steadily, with 405,258 arrivals and departures in 2004 and more expected this year. Freight traffic is also increasing, according to Massport, which operates Logan.

In August, Massport and federal officials pledged a series of safety improvements, most of which were in place during the most recent incidents.

Aviation specialists are now studying more radical approaches that could involve installing either airfield traffic signals or an enhanced on-ground radar system that would warn pilots if their path is being blocked, according to Massport officials.

"I don't know if you can ever put your finger on any one cause or any one factor that's going to trigger the rise that we've seen," said Tom Coronite, president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "I think what it really comes down to is awareness and communication. There's no room for sloppiness, and there's no room for cutting corners."

Massport requested the new federal team after an American Airlines jet aborted its takeoff on Tuesday when errors by a pilot and a controller allowed an American Eagle regional jet to cross onto its runway.

The controller has since been decertified and sent to be retrained, Coronite said.

On Sept. 27, a FedEx cargo jet just starting its takeoff came within 2,000 feet of a twin-propeller plane crossing the same runway.

Coronite said yesterday that another runway incident took place at Logan on Sept. 22, when a Delta shuttle crossed over an active runway without clearance from controllers. No other plane was approaching, he said.

Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, said the agency had no record of the incident.

Logan, the nation's 17th busiest airport, with 1,250 daily arrivals and departures, had no officially reported runway incursions between Oct. 1, 2003, and Sept. 30, 2004.

The 16 incidents reported to the FAA since Oct. 1, 2004, is more than double the total for the previous three-year period combined.

Officials have thus far found no link among the incidents, though they say Logan's five intersecting runways and the short distances from those runways to gates are possible factors.

While the FAA says that most of the runway incidents at Logan were categorized as unlikely to have resulted in a collision, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what officials describe as one of the closest calls at any US airport recently.

On June 9, an Aer Lingus Airbus A330 and a US Airways Boeing 737, carrying a combined 381 passengers and crew members, came within 170 feet and a few seconds of colliding as they sped down intersecting runways at more than 160 miles per hour.


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