Massport Takes a Multi-Faceted Approach to Airfield Safety

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Officials at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) take what they call a "multi-faceted"

approach to airfield safety. Flavio Leo, manager of aviation planning, identifies six main facets: a heavy emphasis on partnerships, promoting a learning culture, testing and/or implementing new technology, enhanced markings, physical improvements and extensive, regular coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and air carriers.

The industry took notice of some of the efforts made by the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which owns and operates the airport, when BOS was named the Airport of the Year by the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) in August. An ALPA press release highlighted the airport's "extensive efforts to reduce runway incursions and excursions through enhanced markings and technologies, its new physical

Facts and Figures

Project: Airfield Safety Initiatives

Location: Boston Logan International

Owner/Operator: Massachusetts Port Authority

Guiding Philosophies: Emphasis on partnerships, promoting a learning culture, leveraging new technology, enhanced markings, physical improvements and coordination with the FAA and air carriers.

Team Approach: Long- and short-term goals to improve airfield safety established by a multidisciplinary group with members from Massport, the airlines, FAA and industry experts.

Program Examples: Runway status lights, control tower training simulator, ASDE-X3 ground radar, ship detection radar, enhanced markings and signage, addition of new centerfield taxiway/removal of other taxiways, simplification of taxiway naming and Type III glass bead runway markings.

improvements that reduce congestion and delays and its multi-faceted approach to emergency exercises."

People Power

According to Leo, Massport relies heavily on its strong relationship with the FAA, airport users (airlines) and other key industry partners. "We work hard to maintain those relationships so that we're sharing information, we're offering the airport as a test bed if needed," he says. "We meet regularly and provide a comprehensive look at what's happening at the airport and how, to the extent possible, to enhance safety wherever we can."

Amy Lind Corbett, regional administrator for FAA's New England Region, agrees. "[Massport] is very aggressive in the most positive sense of the word in being progressive," she says. "They are willing to do what it takes to keep the airport up-to-date and put forth whatever efforts make sense."

Vincent Cardillo, deputy director of aviation operations, explains, "We're always looking at what other airports are doing in the industry and we're always very eager to embrace technology and new ideas. And that is shared throughout the organization - that goes all the way to the CEO."

An example of BOS's collaborative spirit is the Tiger Team, a multidisciplinary group that was formed about three years ago with representatives from Massport, the airlines, the FAA and industry experts. According to Leo, the team put together an action plan that established long- and short-term goals for improving airfield safety at BOS. Many of the initiatives the airport has undertaken in the last few years are a direct result of that effort.

The Tiger Team has seen results because each of the team members is "focused and open-minded" and they have "full and frank discussions," says Lind Corbett.

Technology Matters

BOS's airfield safety plan includes both high-tech and low-tech solutions. "We do a lot of nuts and bolts and boots-on-the-ground work," says Leo. " We also do a lot of technology and looking at the latest way to adopt technology to enhance safety."

Technology deployments designed to enhance safety at BOS include runway status lights, a tower training simulator, ASDE-X3 radar and ship detection radar.

Runway status lights (RWSL) are an automated, all-weather safety backup to pilots, airport vehicle operators and air traffic controllers that flash red on the centerline of a taxiway or runway to alert operators that the runway or intersection they are about to enter is active. The system was originally developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory under FAA's Runway Incursion Reduction Program. BOS will test the lights where two main runways intersect. "Part of the contribution we've made, in the spirit of collaboration, is that Massport will actually do the infrastructure work," Leo notes. BOS is currently the only airport in the country testing runway status lights as applied to intersecting runways, he adds.

An FAA Control Tower Air Traffic Simulator, to be deployed in March, is an interactive simulation system that replicates the air traffic tower with 3-D visuals of BOS's runways and taxiways. According to Leo, this state-of-the-art system is programmed to reflect existing airport procedures, weather and nighttime/daytime conditions and has voice recognition capabilities that will replicate controller voice interaction similar to real-world tower communications. The training facility will be located in Terminal C and will serve Boston Logan as well as other New England airports.

The simulator is expected to be a tremendous teaching tool.

According to Cardillo, the collaborative relationship with the FAA and Massport's willingness to provide space for the system aided in the simulator coming to BOS.

Ship detection radar is another technology Massport is exploring to enhance airfield safety. It will provide advanced warning to air traffic controllers when tall vessels approach the shipping channel of BOS's runway 4R. The system will enhance surveillance and allow air traffic controllers to better manage arriving air traffic, Leo explains. The radar will display real-time location, speed, direction and height of vessels to controllers.

"Today they need to build a large gap between the aircraft arriving to accommodate the ships," Leo explains. "With this real-time projection of traffic, the FAA can do a much better job of managing the flow."

BOS will also deploy the ASDE-3X, the latest generation of the ground radar system. ASDE-3X is a traffic management system for the airport surface that provides seamless coverage of aircraft and identification to air traffic controllers. The system uses a combination of surface movement radar and transponder multi-lateration sensors to display aircraft position labeled with flight call-signs on an ATC tower display. The integration of these sensors provides data with accuracy, update rate and reliability suitable for improving airport safety in all weather conditions.

Along with new technology, enhanced markings and signage, physical improvements to the airfield have also been part of BOS's safety initiatives. Adding a centerfield taxiway between two of BOS's runways, for instance, is expected to improve safety and efficiency. Construction of the 9,300-foot parallel taxiway began in early 2008 and is expected to be complete in two years at a cost of $43 million. It will allow FAA air traffic controllers more flexibility to position aircraft for crossings of active runways, reducing crossing events and emissions, says Leo.

Not only did BOS add a taxiway, some were removed to better optimize safety on the airfield. "We clearly identified some taxiways that we'd be better off without and we reconfigured a whole area in the southwest corner of the airport," reports Cardillo. The taxiway naming system was also simplified.

After participating in a runway markings trial, BOS was among the first airports, in 2006, to switch to strictly all Type III glass beads to enhance visual aid to pilots. "That became the standard shortly after we did a few rounds of tests with glass beads," says Leo.

"Most of what we do is incremental," Leo explains. "We see how it works; if we like it, we'll expand it. After that, if we still like it, we fully deploy it."


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