New York Airport's Alarm to Avoid Jet Collisions Doesn't Work Well in Rain

NEW YORK (AP) -- An alarm system at New York's international airport that is intended to warn of near-collisions was switched off in rain and fog last month, failing to sound when two jets crossed paths on a runway, a newspaper reported Friday.

The alarm system was routinely disabled during rainy weather because it sounded too many false alarms, mistaking hard rain for airplanes, The New York Times reported. So the alarm system was ''deliberately suppressed,'' said Laura J. Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

On July 6, a passenger Boeing 767 operated by Israeli airline Israir missed a turn onto a taxiway and continued on a runway at Kennedy International Airport, apparently coming within 100 feet (30 meters) of a DC-8 cargo jet that was taking off, the newspaper reported. Controllers couldn't see the plane missed a turn because of the fog and rain.

The system, which relies on a radar atop a control tower, warns controllers if a plane reaches 40 mph (65 kph) while another is in its path. Its alarm is a synthetic voice that warns that a runway is already occupied.

Barrett Byrnes, the president of the Kennedy chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the alarm gives controllers time to tell a pilot to stop. Byrnes was not working at the time of the July 6 incident.

''That voice, it wakes you right up,'' Byrnes told the Times. ''It scares the living hell out of you. You know it's something serious.''

In the July incident, controllers were unaware that the jets were on the same path until the cargo plane's captain informed the tower of the Israir jet's presence, the paper said.

That caused some confusion in the tower because controllers thought an Air France jet was in the way, delaying their instructions to the Israir pilots to get out of the way. The Israir crew soon realized they missed a turn and finished their taxi into the airport safely.

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering an upgraded system at some airports, but not at Kennedy. It is also considering software changes that it says would improve the Kennedy system's performance in rain.