Runway status lights
The Runway Status Lights (RWSL) system is a technology the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is deploying to make runways even safer at busy airports. The system adds to the layers of protection already in place by providing visual alerts to pilots and drivers when runway traffic makes it unsafe to enter, cross, or begin takeoff. The lights enhance safety without affecting with normal and safe operations — an important consideration at airports that handle hundreds of operations an hour.
The system works by analyzing radar and satellite tracking data from Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X) systems. ASDE-X systems use surface radar, multilateration, and in some cases ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast). The ASDE-X data includes location information for aircraft and vehicles. The RWSL system uses complex algorithms to calculate future paths and predict potential conflicts. The system automatically illuminates lines of bright red lights in the pavement of select runways when a potential conflict is likely to occur between two aircraft or vehicles. The RWSL arrays on taxiways light up any time an aircraft is landing or about to takeoff. The lights extinguish as soon as it is safe to move forward.
RWSL is important for ground vehicles as well as for aircraft, and work in exactly the same way. The lights help vehicle drivers avoid entering runways that are, or will soon be in use.
The system adds a vital layer of redundancy to runway safety and reinforces controller guidance without replacing it. Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearances are still required for any operation on airport runways.
Runway safety is a top priority at both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Most runway incursions happen quickly, leaving little time for corrective action. Reducing these runway incursions is a critical safety effort. The goal is to enhance runway safety without affecting airport capacity.
The RWSL system helps reduce runway incursions by increasing the situational awareness of pilots and vehicle operators. The system automatically provides clear, prompt, and automatic alerts directly to pilots and drivers so no time is lost in transmitting warnings.
The lights supplement existing ATC tools and procedures without increasing controller workload. No input from controllers is required.
The RWSL system uses data from airport ground surveillance systems to detect traffic on or approaching the runways.
Two subsystems, the RWSL Processor and the Field Lighting System (FLS), work together to automatically illuminate and extinguish the in-pavement lights. The processor uses surveillance data to analyze real-time airport surface operations. The FLS provides the physical interface from the processor to the runway lights.
The system commands in-pavement lights to illuminate red when there is traffic on or nearing runways. On taxiways, Runway Entrance Lights (RELs) show that runways are not safe to enter or cross. On runways, Takeoff Hold Lights (THLs) show pilots that it is not yet safe to begin their takeoff. The system is fully automated and finely tuned for safety and efficiency.
The FAA plans to have RWSL operational at 17 airports in 2017:
- Orlando International Airport (Orlando, FL)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (Phoenix, AZ)
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston, TX)
- Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (Baltimore, MD)
- Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas, NV)
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport (Charlotte, NC)
- Los Angeles International Airport (Los Angeles, CA)
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Seattle, WA)
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (Chicago, IL)
- Washington Dulles International Airport (Chantilly, VA)
- LaGuardia Airport (New York, NY)
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York, NY)
- Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (Minneapolis, MN)
- Newark International Airport (Newark, NJ)
- Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport (Detroit, MI)
- Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
- San Francisco International Airport (San Francisco, CA)
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