Robert A. Sturgell, Boston, MA
April 9, 2008

Boston Logan Runway Status Lights Briefing

Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone.

Safety is what the FAA is all about. There isn’t a day that goes by where the FAA is not actively looking for ways to make flying safer than it was yesterday. Our record speaks for itself. Last year, almost 800 million passengers put their trust in us, and we delivered.

From the minute someone boards a plane to the minute they exit the jetway, the FAA is on the job. That especially holds true when they’re on the runway, and that’s why I’m here today.

I’m pleased to announce that Logan will be receiving a new technology that will make its runways among the safest in the nation. It’s an alert system with red lights embedded in the runway pavement to warn pilots to hold right where they are.

We call them runway status lights, and we’re bringing this technology here because the airport has one of the most complex layouts in the country.

As a former airline pilot, I can tell you that we’ve yet to encounter another facility quite like Logan, with its unique geometry of crossing runways. It poses quite a challenge to our operations.

You look at this configuration, and Logan’s an obvious choice to try out a new feature that hasn’t been tested anywhere else.

Since October, Logan’s had six runway incidents. Fortunately, they weren’t serious. But the point here is that while six pales in comparison to the hundreds of safe takeoffs and landings that go on every day, it’s still six too many. One — even one — is unacceptable.

Putting warning lights out here will drive that number down, especially since human error is the main cause of incursions. The reasoning behind this technology is simple. Drivers have stop lights to guide them. Why not pilots?

The tab for all of this will run about $5 million, to be shared by the FAA and Massport. We expect to award a contract by the fall. Then the engineers come in and do their thing before the system goes live in 2009.

It’s worth noting that the concept for runway status lights was born just down the road at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. That’s where all of the initial research and trials took place. And I want to take a moment here to thank the lab’s research staff.

They helped bring this life-saving technology from concept to reality. It wasn’t ready for prime time back in the 1990s, but it is now.

So naturally, it’s only fitting that Logan be a key site for the first-of-its-kind test system that’s being installed here.

As you can see by the diagram, the lights will go down both sides of runway 33 left, 15 right, and runway nine. This is the first time we will be using RWSLs for intersecting runways.

What also makes this especially noteworthy is the timeline. The rollout of the national runway light system won’t come until 2011 at the earliest, so that puts Logan a full two years ahead of the curve.

Now, I said a minute ago that we want your runways to be among the safest in the nation. The status lights will definitely help. But there’s also something else — a centerfield taxiway between the parallel runways.

It would minimize the number of active runways that planes have to cross, thus boosting safety and reducing the chances of an incursion. And, it would permit planes to go to and from the terminal faster. They’d burn less fuel, and avoid the choke points that lead to delays.

A centerfield taxiway was a “must have” recommendation by a “tiger team” of safety experts that was assembled several years ago to look into the very serious issue of runway mishaps. Well, it’s all going to finally happen.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve signed off on a grant for $20 million. Taxiway construction begins this month on the north end. The second phase, the south end, will be wrapped up by December of next year. A new taxiway and runway status lights around the same time. Congratulations, Logan.

By our estimates, the taxiway will reduce annual ground delays by up to 10,000 hours.

And, it’ll give controllers the flexibility they need to ease the flow of traffic in congested parts of the airfield.

The taxiway holds the same promise as the runway that was put in back in 2006.

Delays during northwest winds have been minimal since it opened. In that time, we figure that it’s reduced delays by up to 9,800 hours and saved about $16 million to $29 million.

At this rate, the runway’s going to pay for itself in about three to six years.

And speaking of the runway, there’s still an outstanding tab for 14-32, so please accept another grant I’ve brought with me. It’s for $10 million to reimburse the city for the ongoing construction costs. All in all, a great day for Boston, and a great day for safety.

Let me wrap up by stating once more that when it comes to protecting passengers, the FAA is on the job. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Boston’s a city that’s focused too. So, my thanks to Tom Kinton and everyone at Massport for helping to build a dynasty — a dynasty of safety and efficiency at Logan. Thank you.