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US transport safety authority warns of runway collision risk

Six near runway collisions at San Francisco, New York, Ft. Lauderdale and other airports were narrowly averted in the last six months prompting the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to highlight the issue of runway safety as among its most important issue areas.

At a public meeting yesterday, the NTSB reviewed its "Most Wanted List" of safety improvements, a list established in 1990 that focuses attention on critical changes needed by federal agencies to reduce accidents and save lives.

Half of the 44 safety recommendations in the 15 federal issue areas on the Most Wanted List were issued to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with the rest going to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), and the United States Coast Guard.

Runway safety are on the increase, with FAA figures showing that there were 371 iincursions this year, up in 330 last year. A system being installed at airports by the FAA provides warning to air traffic controllers, but not to the flight crews, a situation that greatly reduces the amount of time that pilots have to react to an impending incursion. The Board's recommendations ask for a direct warning to the cockpit. It has also called on operators to conduct arrival landing distance calculations before every landing based on existing performance data, actual conditions, and incorporating a minimum safety margin of 15%.

One of the two new issue areas added to the Most Wanted List was collision prevention through enhanced vehicle safety technology, which NTSB chairman Mark V. Rosenker called "one of the most encouraging developments in transportation safety in a very long time." Rosenker said that innovations like collision warning systems (CWS) have "opened the door to the possibility of major advances in motor vehicle safety." He continued, "I can't think of any other set of technologies that holds as much potential for improving motor vehicle safety as these do." The NTSB has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to act more quickly in setting performance standards for CWS and adaptive cruise control systems in new commercial and passenger vehicles.

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