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Oct. 23, 2001

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000

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Tom Winfrey

Los Angeles World Airports, Los Angeles, Calif.


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A unique NASA study released today shows relocating an existing taxiway and using new procedures could improve runway safety at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

In an effort to prevent planes, vehicles and other objects from possibly colliding on the ground, NASA used a control tower simulator to create computer-generated views of the airport. These potentially dangerous incidents are known as runway incursions and are a growing problem at busy airports across the country.

Studies of a half-dozen potential changes at Los Angeles took place at the virtual air traffic control tower, known as 'FutureFlight Central.' The two-story, high-tech tower simulator is located at NASA's Ames Research Center, in California's Silicon Valley. "The LAX simulation at FutureFlight Central was the first attempt to model a major airport with controllers and pilots interacting in real time," said Nancy Dorighi, who manages the facility at Ames.

"The state-of-the art simulator provided great insight about how airline pilots interface with the air traffic controllers in the LAX environment," said Michael DiGirolamo, Los Angeles World Airports' (LAWA) deputy executive director of airports operations.

LAWA, operator of the Los Angeles airport, received the final results of the study today during its regular public meeting. Airport managers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now will review the details of the $485,000 study that began in 2000.

"The FAA, LAWA and air carriers will work together to evaluate the findings and determine what steps to take to improve the margin of safety at LAX based on the NASA findings," DiGirolamo said. "Additionally, we believe NASA's work at LAX will lead to similar studies at other large airports."

Researchers found that two potential scenarios that include relocating an existing taxiway to the west side of the airport could reduce runway incursions. Most simulation alternatives concentrated on the two south runways, new procedures and the potential new western taxiway.

Using the relocated taxiway on the west side of the airport, instead of directing airplanes to cross in the middle of busy runways between takeoffs and landings, could significantly reduce the chance of incursions, according to Ames' simulation project manager Boris Rabin.

"It [the runway bypass] possibly relieves our runway incursion problem areas. We are doing these simulations because we want to look at all the possible outcomes and impacts from these possible changes," Raymond Jack, a chief of operations at LAWA, said during one simulation run.

"Changes could possibly increase controller workload. That's why we're trying them in a virtual environment. Before we invest millions and millions of dollars, we can look at data rather than making assumptions based on two-dimensional computer models and engineering assumptions," Jack added.

"We conducted multiple simulations," Rabin said. "We tested one change at a time to see what the impact is. This procedure leads us to more certainty when we analyze the results."

"The test conditions concentrated on redistributing surface traffic away from the congested south side 'hot spots' associated with runway incursions. Potential changes include swapping inboard and outboard runways for arrivals and departures, adding additional staffing to the control tower, and using taxi patterns that reduce runway crossings by airplanes," Dorighi concluded.

LAWA officials, the FAA and the airlines formed a special task force to develop possible measures and airfield improvements that could reduce the likelihood of incursions. FutureFlight Central offered a realistic means to test these measures and improvements safely without disrupting the airport's 2,200 daily takeoffs and landings.



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