Safety board takes aim at stopping runway close calls

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

WASHINGTON -- An airplane, vehicle or person turns onto an airport runway by mistake on the average of more than once a day. Federal safety investigators say a fatal crash could result.

"We're afraid the next major accident will be on the ground, not in the air, in aviation," said Marion Blakey, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board voted unanimously on Tuesday to keep on its list of most-wanted safety improvements the stopping of runway close calls -- which it calls incursions.

The issue has been on the list since the board began releasing its most-wanted improvements in 1990.

Suggestions for safety

The safety board has little authority, other than the power of persuasion, to get federal agencies to follow its suggestions.

Since its creation in 1967, the safety board has issued 11,885 recommendations, and 81.6 percent have been followed.

But several important ones remain incomplete.

The number of runway incursions dropped last year to 381, from 431 in 2000. But that is still more than one a day.

The most serious incidents, those where a collision was avoided only because a plane or vehicle quickly moved out of the way, dropped from 68 in 2000 to 50 last year.

Even so, safety board officials said the number was too high.

In October, 118 people were killed in Milan, Italy, after an SAS airliner collided with a business jet that had mistakenly entered the runway as the larger plane was taking off.

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