On Monday, the FAA announced it will award $100 million to 12 airports across the country to help prevent runway incursions.
According to the agency, the Runway Incursion Mitigation Program grant money will be part of its annual distributions and fund projects such as reconfiguring taxiways that may be confusing, installing airfield lighting, and constructing new taxiways to provide more flexibility on the airfield.
The funding comes in response to a string of close calls and several near-collisions that have plagued the aviation industry in recent months. The concerning incidents prompted the FAA to convene a rare safety summit in March where Acting Administrator Billy Nolen called for vigilance saying, “Recent events remind us that we must not become complacent. Now is the time to stare into the data and ask hard questions.”
But despite the onslaught of alarming events, FAA data shows the most serious close calls at U.S. airports are declining—even as overall incidents have risen. The runway incursion rate for the most serious incidents jumped in January to 0.98 per 1 million takeoffs and landings but fell to 0.44 in April, according to the agency.
Still, the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and industry officials agree that steps must be taken to improve safety. “There is no question that we are seeing too many close calls,” the FAA said in a recent memo to employees.
In announcing the investments, FAA Associate Administrator Shannetta Griffin said, “some airfields have complex layouts that can create confusion for pilots and other airport users. This funding will reconfigure complex taxiway and runway intersections to help prevent incursions and enhance the safety of the National Airspace System.”
Among the 12 recipients are San Diego International Airport (KSAN), which will receive $24 million to construct a new taxiway, eliminating the need for aircraft to back-taxi on the runway, and Arizona’s Tucson International Airport (KTUS), which will receive $33.1 million to construct a taxiway and shift and rebuild Runway 11R/29L to be farther away from a parallel runway.
Other airports included in the funding are Harry Reid International Airport (KLAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada; Republic Airport (KFRG) in East Farmingdale, New York; Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (KSJC) in California; Miami International Airport (KMIA); Pensacola International Airport (KPNS) in Florida; Prescott Regional Airport (KPRC) in Arizona; Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport (KSPI) in Springfield, Illinois; Bellingham International Airport (KBLI) in Washington; Waverly Municipal Airport (C25) in Iowa; and Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (KMKC) in Kansas City, Missouri.
Meanwhile, the NTSB is convening its own summit on May 23 in Washington, D.C., to discuss ways to avoid any future near-misses ahead of what’s shaping up to be a busy travel season.
“I look forward to hosting a candid assessment of what’s been done to prevent runway incursions in the years since our last event on the topic—and to spur meaningful, immediate action on the areas where we’re stalled,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a statement. “By proactively looking for ways to make our skies safer, this event reflects our agency’s commitment to meeting the same high standards we ask of others.”
Additionally, the FAA has taken steps to introduce runway safety technologies to provide pilots and air traffic controllers with increased situational awareness, such as Runway Status Lights, Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X, and ASDE-X Taxiway Arrival Prediction.