CAPTAIN DUANE E. WOERTH
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JUNE 26, 2001
Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I am Captain Duane E. Woerth, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). ALPA represents the professional interests of more than 66,000 pilots who fly for 47 airlines in the United States and Canada. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to address the important issue of runway incursions and the technological improvements that can be made to reduce their impact on air safety.
As you requested in your letter of invitation, Iíll be addressing two safety enhancements: the use of anti-blocking radio technology both in the cockpit and the control tower, and the deployment of the Airport Movement Area Safety System, commonly referred to as AMASS. ALPA views both of these technologies as part of an overall systems approach to lowering the risk of fatalities due to runway incursions. In addition, Iíll identify the seven safety enhancements that constitute a systems approach, which ALPA believes has the greatest potential for eliminating runway incursion accidents.
The worst accident in aviation history occurred in 1977 at Tenerife. 583 people lost their lives when two 747ís collided on a runway during limited visibility. A blocked radio transmission caused one crew to mistakenly conclude that they were cleared for takeoff while the other 747 was still on the runway. It has been more than 20 years since Tenerife and there has been little progress toward installing anti-blocking technology to address the risk of blocked radio transmissions. Meanwhile air traffic has greatly increased.
As any airline pilot can verify, stepped on and blocked radio transmissions are encountered frequently both enroute and in terminal areas. Anti-blocking technology is part of the specifications for the Next Generation Communications (NEXCOM) plan. But that plan is still on the drawing board and at least a decade away from full implementation. ALPA believes that adding anti-blocking technology to existing radios will have a beneficial effect on the efficiency of pilot/controller communications, with a parallel effect on increased capacity at our nationís airport.
Most importantly, it will allow pilots and air traffic controllers to work together to make the system safer by mitigating the risk of blocked communications in this increasingly congested ATC environment.
There is a significant and growing risk of fatal runway incursions at our nationís airports. Increased congestion at the 31 busiest airports, which handle more than 75% of the nationís traffic, continues to heighten that risk. The FAAís Runway Safety Program website shows the rate of runway incursions more than doubling between 1988 and the year 2000 from .30 to .64 runway incursions per 100,000 flights. The FAAís "Operational Evolution Plan" predicts a further 30% increase in operations by the year 2010. Simply put, as the amount of traffic increases, the risk of blocked radio transmissions continues to grow, contributing to a heightened risk of fatal runway incursions. Mr. Chairman, since anti-blocking technology has been available and affordable since the Tenerife accident, one must ask: Why have we not yet employed it in our cockpits and air traffic control facilities?
Another important technology associated with reducing the risk of fatal runway incursions is the Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS). The FAA has just recently made an in-service decision to commission AMASS systems at San Francisco and Detroit, and to deploy AMASS to a total of 34 operational sites at some of our nationís busiest airports. AMASS is the first major runway incursion prevention technology the FAA has deployed.
ALPA applauds the FAA decision to deploy AMASS and to complete its installation by November 2002. We feel AMASS can have an important risk reduction benefit, in the near term, at some of our busiest airports where the risk of fatal runway incursions is the greatest. We have been assured that software problems that generated numerous "false positives" during the early testing phases have been corrected, and we look forward to the risk reduction benefits associated with full deployment of the system.
It is important to note, however, that even full implementation of these two technologies will not adequately mitigate the growing risk of fatal runway incursions. Anti-blocking radios and AMASS are but two of a myriad of needed runway incursion safety enhancements. In order to properly address the growing problem of runway incursions, ALPA supports the fielding of seven categories of safety enhancements. They are:
1. the installation of GPS-driven moving map displays in the cockpit to enhance pilot situation awareness;
2. the use of improved Standard Operating Procedures for ground operations across the industry -- current standardization is woefully inadequate;
3. improved pilot training, including action by the FAA to increase the significance of ground operations performance on all flight training;
4. improved air traffic control procedures;
5. improved training for air traffic controllers, particularly the use of high-fidelity visual tower simulators, which are similar in quality to aircraft simulators routinely used for pilot training;
6. improved situational awareness technology for air traffic controllers, including ASDE-X and the emerging capabilities demonstrated in the FAAís Safe Flight 21 Program;
7. visual aids enhancement and automation technology for airports, including improved all-weather conspicuity signs, visual runway occupancy for flight crews on final approach, and automated "Smart Lighting" to indicate taxi routes.
A more detailed explanation of these recommendations is contained in the paper attached to my testimony, entitled "A Systems Approach to Solving Runway Incursion."
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today, and would be happy to answer any questions you and the members of the subcommittee may have.