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LAX unveils new runway warning system

June 11, 2009 7:01:18 AM PDT
Los Angeles International Airport unveiled a new warning system Thursday for its runways and taxiways.The system is designed to give pilots another tool to avoid other planes while on the tarmac.

The Federal Aviation Administration and LAX officials describe the $7 million system as a series of red lights embedded in the runway pavement. They're hoping the small lights, called runway status lights, will better coordinate taxiing jets and keep them from colliding.

The runway status lights rely on a network of computers and radar to detect when two planes, or any other motor vehicles, may be on a collision course. The lights turn red and light up when it is unsafe for a plane to cross or enter a runway, or take-off from a runway.

"Runway status lights are very much like stop lights that you see in traffic," said Wes Timmons, FAA Runway Safety Director.

The lights help make it clear which planes have the right of way, and keep the jetliners from coming too close to each other.

LAX is one of the busiest airports in the country, with roughly 60 million travelers taking off or landing at the airport each year. It has a long history of close-calls and runway safety violations, what the FAA refers to as "incursions."

According to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAX experienced the highest number of runway incursions of any airport in the U.S. between 2000 and 2003.

The runway status lights have been installed on the north runway, which has been deemed the highest risk of collisions, and eight taxiways at LAX.

Many travelers said they like the added safety.

"I think anything that the airports can do to alleviate any concerns with flying or anything nowadays is probably a good idea, especially something that doesn't involve extra security features while trying to get on board the plane and stuff like that," said traveler Jeff Lazkani. "So yeah, I think it's a good idea."

"Seven million dollars in this economy, I don't know about that. But it's better to have planes not crash and people to live," said traveler Isabel Campanelli. "I don't know it's a tough one."

The funds to expand the new safety system are not exactly on the radar screens at LAX. The city of L.A. paid the entire bill for this phase of the project, but the mayor is hoping the federal government will spring for the rest of the runways.

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