WASHINGTON: In a step underscoring that much of the risk of air travel occurs on the ground, airlines have agreed to use their cockpit simulators to train pilots to taxi, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.
All airline pilots take regular training in simulators, but mostly for events that could occur in flight, like engine failure, other mechanical problems or severe weather. Now, after a spate of recent cases in which planes nearly collided on runways, simulator training focusing specifically on taxiing has become part a package of quick fixes worked out in a meeting of about 40 representatives of airlines, airports, air traffic controllers and regulators.
The FAA, which has been working since 1999 to reduce "runway incursions" like the recent incidents, had already decided to require 73 airports to add paint to make it clearer to pilots where they would have to stop to avoid intruding on runways. The job was supposed to be done by September 2008, but on Wednesday, Bobby Sturgell, the agency's deputy administrator, said that in another of the new solutions, the airports had agreed to do the work "in the next 60 days or as soon as possible."
In addition, he said, the agency will study whether to change the way that controllers issue clearances to pilots. Controllers have long been permitted to give a single clearance that covers a plane all the way from a terminal to the end of a runway. One alternative would be to give much shorter clearances, from intersection to intersection, although that could cause delays.
Such a step would add to one that took effect last month, in which controllers, in giving clearances, must recite a list of runways to be crossed.
On July 11, a Boeing 757 flown by Delta touched down at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and had to take off again abruptly to avoid colliding with an Airbus A320, operated by United, that was taxiing to its runway and had done the airport equivalent of missing a stop sign.
On July 5, a Delta 737 landing at La Guardia Airport in New York narrowly missed a Delta Connection commuter jet that had been mistakenly cleared to taxi across the runway at the same time.
And the National Transportation Safety Board recently issued a report on the crash last summer of a Delta Connection plane that tried to take off in Lexington, Kentucky The pilot was on the wrong runway, which proved too short. Forty-nine people were killed.