DALLAS — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will begin an investigation regarding a recent incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), where a runway incursion nearly caused a crash between two aircraft.
This near-miss happened last Friday night at JFK when an American Airlines (AA) Boeing 777-200 crossed the active runway 04L without ATC authorization and forced the rejected takeoff of a Delta Air Lines (DL) Boeing 737-900, which was accelerating on departure to Santo Domingo (SDQ).
According to LiveATC, which recorded the communications between air traffic controllers and the airplanes involved in the incident, the incursion was made by the AA aircraft, which was instructed to cross runway 31L instead of runway 04L, which was very close to its position during taxi.
Luckily, the excellent reflex of the pilots and good coordination by ATC after identifying the dangerous situation prevented any damage to the aircraft or any injuries to any person on board the aircraft.
However, both the NTSB and FAA have announced their intentions to investigate this case to analyze any procedures or safety flaws and solve them to prevent this situation from occurring again in the future.
New York’s JFK Airport is one of the busiest airports worldwide, and it is the primary gate for transatlantic flights from the US East Coast to Europe, receiving more than 1000 landings and departures from airports all around the world.
As a result, aviation agencies, airlines, and air navigation service providers always ensure the best safety procedures are implemented in order to operate safely every day.
How to Prevent Runway Incursions
For busy airports such as JFK, which also was built using crossing runways, safety agencies and airport designers have been developing through the years various safety barriers that prevent other aircraft from crossing any runway when they are not supposed to, as when they were not cleared to do so by Air Traffic Control. Here are some examples:
First of all, every runway has indications of holding points at every entrance to it, signalizing the critical spot any aircraft shall not cross without authorization in order to not create any conflict or hazard to a departing or arriving airplane that may be using the runway at the moment.
They have always been located a specific distance away from the runway centerline, which is a standardized measure imposed by ICAO and other agencies such as the FAA, which all airports shall obey.
In low visibility conditions or at night, these runway holding points are illuminated in red color in order to also be visible by pilots on those occasions. Additionally, these lights also can indicate that a specific runway is closed, or that the specific holding point is unavailable for use, and in some circumstances, the ATC has control over the lights and can turn them from red to green in order to indicate that the aircraft holding is free to enter the runway.
If any of those systems above fail, air traffic controllers and pilots are trained to perform safety procedures to prevent a crash if a runway incursion occurs, as the pilots of the Delta aircraft did in this case, who decided to reject the takeoff and stop the plane immediately at the moment they saw the aircraft’s incursion.
Air traffic controllers can also revoke a takeoff clearance if they detect a dangerous situation.
Featured image: American Airlines Boeing 777-200 view from above. Photo: Nick Sheeder/Airways