"Red Means Stop"
Robert A. Sturgell, Los Angeles, CA
February 26, 2008

LAX Runway Status Lights Press Event


Gina Marie, thank you. I appreciate that warm L.A. welcome. Hello everybody, and thanks for coming out this afternoon.

Today I’m announcing a preliminary agreement between the FAA and the city to bring a life-saving technology to LAX. It will significantly boost runway safety without reducing capacity or adding to controller workload.

It’s an alert system with red lights embedded in the runway pavement to warn pilots to hold right where they are. The reasoning is simple. Drivers have stop lights to guide them. Why not pilots?  Well now they will.

We call them runway status lights, and we’re bringing this technology here because LAX needs it. LAX has had the most runway incursions of any airport in the country since 2001. There were eight of them last year, just as there were in ’06 and ’05. That may not sound like a lot when you consider that LAX had more than 680,000 takeoffs and landings last year. But let me tell you, that’s eight incursions too many.

Still, the FAA and the city have done a lot over the years to try and whittle incursions down, but that number has remained fairly constant.

These new runway lights will be one more layer of defense, but it won’t be the first line of defense.

What L.A. needs to do, first and foremost, to stem runway incursions is improve the airport layout. The city needs to do on the north airfield what it’s doing on the south side. That’s how you drive down incursions.

Until a more comprehensive solution comes along, the FAA and LAX are continuing to look at stop-gap measures such as runway status lights to improve safety.

The proof is there that they work. There was an incident recently at Dallas Fort Worth that illustrates just what I mean.

A few weeks ago, a commercial flight was taxing into position, about to take off. At that very moment, another plane was about to cross the runway that it was on.

But instead of taking off, the first plane stayed right where it was, thanks to the red runway status lights — the same lights that we’ll be installing at LAX.

We’re looking into that incident at DFW to find out exactly what happened, but we know for sure that the planes never got close to one another. Tragedy avoided. The technology worked.

We’re also hearing good things about it out of San Diego, which has a similar runway light system.

What’s unique about what we’re doing at LAX is that for the first time, we’re installing the lights on high-speed exit taxiways, which is fertile ground for incursions.

Here’s something else we know. Pilot error is mostly to blame. It’s frustrating, because as a pilot myself, I have a hard time understanding why that’s so.

Runways lights will help where human judgment fails, but — and I’ll say it again if you didn’t hear me the first time — the ultimate aim for LAX is to reconfigure the north runways. They’re too close together. That doesn’t leave much room for error if someone makes a mistake.

The southern end of the airport doesn’t have that problem, not since the runways were spaced farther apart.

I appreciate and respect the voices of dissent who feel otherwise about the situation, but let’s not let politics get in the way of safety. Any incursion is one too many. And there have been a number of close calls over the years, including a very serious one here last summer.

Runway status lights are one way to drive down incursions, but they’re not the best way. I urge city leaders to do what is best for their airport and their city and change the layout of the north airfield. I ask you to do this in the name of safety.

Thank you. And a special thanks to Los Angeles World Airports for the leadership it’s shown. They’ve been tremendous in smoothing out the creases to finance the runway light system so it can be deployed sooner.

I can’t forget to mention one more name who was so instrumental in getting this project off the ground. Congresswoman Jane Harman. I wish she were here in person to see this day, but she had to be in Washington on official business.

Thanks to her and to LAWA, LAX is one step closer to a new era in safety. The contracts for the runway lights have already gone out. Construction starts this summer. And we expect LAX to be totally “red” and ready to go by early next year.

There’s just a couple of things left to do to make it all official, and one of them is getting the preliminary agreement signed. Before we do that, we’re going to take your questions. And then I’m going to ask Gina Marie to join me at the table to and let’s get things moving.

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