The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) will provide a Runway Safety Warning System at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that gives pilots a direct warning about potential runway safety hazards, with Los Angeles World Airports paying the estimated $6 million cost of installation. The system is expected to begin operational testing early next year, said FAA officials.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is the City of Los Angeles agency that operates LAX and three other airports.

The system, Runway Status Lights, uses a series of red lights embedded in the pavement to warn pilots if it is unsafe to cross or enter a runway or to take off, said FAA officials.

The system will allow pilots and vehicle drivers approaching a runway to see red lights illuminate if the airport’s ground surveillance radar detects traffic on, or about to land on, that runway, and clearance to cross or enter a runway must be given by air traffic control, FAA officials said.

When the lights go off, the pilot or vehicle driver must verify the clearance before proceeding.

There are two types of Runway Status Lights. Runway Entrance Lights illuminate if it is unsafe to enter or cross a runway; Takeoff Hold Lights illuminate if it is unsafe for a pilot to depart, according to FAA officials.

The benefit to pilots is that the lights improve situational awareness by warning about potential runway hazards that could otherwise lead to incursions or accidents, and are especially valuable when visibility is reduced and pilots have difficulty seeing other aircraft or ground vehicles, said FAA officials.

The lights also provide another layer of defense against situations caused by poor communication, such as a clearance that is given or received incorrectly, FAA officials said.

Runway safety lights are one of the technological improvements long called for by opponents of LAX expansion, and although the FAA has acknowl- edged that Runway Status Lights function well at Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, it still considers the lights experimental — as it did when they were introduced in 1991, said Denny Schneider, president of ARSAC (Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion).

“The FAA started in the right direction by agreeing to install Runway Status Lights at LAX, but sadly, they decided to do only part of the job by choosing two runways out of four and limited taxiways and it will take them a year to do even that,” said Schneider. “If any incident occurs at LAX it’s because of the FAA’s unwillingness to act responsibly and do the complete job.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on one sore and leaving some open wounds to get infected.

“ARSAC thanks LAWA for a commitment to safety by paying for at least part of a full Runway Status Lights system and getting the FAA to allow them to be installed,” said Schneider. “We look forward to the FAA establishing a schedule for a full system installation.”

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Mark Rosenker said that the Runway Safety Lights system “appears to fulfill one of the agency’s longstanding recommendations that pilots be given better warnings of potential hazards on runways,” saying, “It’s one of the most important issues to us.”

At LAX, Runway 24L (the inboard north-side runway) has the stoplight on the runway, but only in place for normal westerly operations and not available for eastern operations when the controllers are even busier, said Schneider.

In addition, the taxiway lights are shown only on part of the southern runway but missed several of the taxiways (toward Terminal 4) where there have been incursions, Schneider said.

Schneider asked whether “it is possible that the FAA chose to do only one runway for fear that they will not be able to maintain their equipment, and we note that Runway Status Lights haven’t been addressed for LA/Ontario and LA/Palmdale Airports.”

“We note that the FAA has just been challenged in court for understaffing the technical employees union, PASS [Professional Airways Systems Specialists],” said Schneider.

Professional Airways Systems Specialists is the oldest and second largest FAA union, representing approximately 11,000 FAA employees in five separate bargaining units throughout the U.S. and in several foreign locations, according to the union’s Web site.

Currently asking for fair contract negotiations, the Web site states that under the “FAA’s view of existing law, the FAA can impose working conditions on employees and bypass the negotiations process if negotiations are at an impasse, the FAA administrator can send the matter to Congress and unilaterally impose its terms and conditions on its workers.”