Project runway

FAA struggles to field ground safety systems

The Federal Aviation Administration is implementing several technology projects designed to increase ground safety at airports, but those projects are late and over budget, according to the Transportation Department's inspector general, Calvin Scovel III. Scovel detailed the problems in recent testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee.

However, an agency spokeswoman said FAA has the situation under control. 'The FAA's aggressive and effective runway safety program is working,' she said.

'In fact, the number of serious runway incursions has declined by 55 percent since 2001,' the spokeswoman said. 'We have accelerated our installation schedule for ASDE-X technology by one year,' she said in rebuttal to one of Scovel's major complaints.

'As with any new technology, there have been a few isolated incidents we had to work through.

But for the most part, air traffic controllers have been happy with ASDE-X,' the spokeswoman said.

FAA officials said the agency not only is building technology to bolster runway safety but also is working with air carriers to require pilots, engineers and other aircrew to review safety programs.

A key technology project for preventing runway accidents ' the Airport Surface Detection Equipment- Model-X (ASDE-X) ' may not meet its cost and schedule goals to commission all of its planned 35 systems for $549.8 million by 2011, Scovel said. ASDE-X is a ground surveillance system intended to give controllers early warnings of potential airliner crashes on the ground.

Currently, 11 of the 35 systems are up and running, Scovel said, at a cost of $314 million or 57 percent of the project's allotted funds.

In October, Scovel reported that ASDE-X may not achieve all its planned safety benefits, including working during bad weather, when it is most needed.

The Runway Status Lights (RWSL) program, a second safety technology, requires data from the ASDE-X program, Scovel said.

Still in its early stages of implementation, RWSL uses automated, surveillance-driven lights that work as an independent, direct-warning system. The lights warn pilots when other aircraft are in their way.

FAA's Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) project, a satellite-based system that allows aircraft to broadcast their position to other planes and ground systems, has been hampered by FAA's failure to adopt a clear transition path for its deployment and a cost/benefit demonstration, Scovel said. ADSB provides a 'second set of eyes' via a cockpit alert display that allows pilots to detect and avoid runway hazards.

ADS-B ground infrastructure will not be in place until 2013, Scovel testified, and users will not be required to equip planes with the needed avionics until 2020.

FAA lists the ADS-B project as one of its major building blocks of the Next Generation program that will shift safety systems from reliance on ground radar to using satellite communications, the FAA spokeswoman said.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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