It’s a good thing that Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has finally begun to pull the mask of safety from its plan to move Runway 24R in the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) North Airfield Complex closer to Westchester Homes. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), only three of the total twelve runway incursions
The Los Angeles International Airport North Airfield Safety Study Final Report (“Final Report”), published on May 11, 2010, looks very much like the draft. The Final Report, like the draft, concluded that no safety problem exists on the two runways of the North Airfield. It further concludes that an additional separation of the runways by 340 feet is unnecessary for safety purposes, although useful for increasing capacity. Finally, the study concludes that an additional separation of 100 feet, originally proposed by the Cities of Inglewood and El Segundo, which would allow the addition of a center taxiway, would be sufficient to accommodate any remaining safety concerns. The study, however, reaches the correct conclusions for the wrong reasons.
The U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation met on September 25, 2008 to receive testimony on runway safety. This hearing was a follow-up to the Subcommittee’s February 13th hearing. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) stated in his opening remarks that although the U.S. air transportation system is the safest in the world, there remain many issues to be addressed to keep it that way. In particular, he was concerned about the fact that although air traffic is down by 3% for the first six months of 2008 compared with 2007, runway incursions are up slightly. While agreeing that the FAA is headed in the right direction with respect to the development and the deploying of new runway technology, Rep. Costello wanted the FAA to address the very real human factors that the GAO raised in the previous hearing, i.e., the air traffic controller shortage and the adequacy of the training of air traffic controllers. Rep. Costello specifically mentioned the serious runway incursion that occurred at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 2008, where a trainee failed to notice that a small single engine airplane had not yet vacated the runway prior to allowing a regional jet to take-off on the same runway. It was reported that 35% of the controllers at the tower at Allentown are trainees.
With respect to the increase of runway incursions, Hank Krakowski, FAA’s Chief Operating Officer, explained that after the FAA adopted the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) definition of "runway incursion," it has seen a spike in incursions due to the more inclusive nature of the ICAO definition. That being said, Mr. Krakowski spent most of his time offering an update about the technological innovations and the progress on the testing in the field. However, Mr. Krakowski did not address Rep. Costello’s concerns head-on. Although he addressed some of the "human factors," by mentioning certain procedural changes and a "first ever" fatigue symposium (which are, by all accounts, steps in the right direction), he did not mention anything about staffing levels and quality of the training.