Monday, November 24, 2014

How Greater Rochester International Airport (KROC) prevents collisions

Dozens of jets soar in and out of Greater Rochester International Airport daily without colliding with one another or the many vehicles and people that traverse the airfield, from fuel trucks to maintenance crews.

It's easy to take that for granted, but it's the result of careful planning behind the scenes, according to Michael Giardino, Monroe County's aviation director.

"There's continual training, ongoing training," he said. "Our ears and our eyes are open all the time."

Close calls among planes, vehicles or people at U.S. airports rose 80 percent between 2003 and last year, according to a USA TODAY review of data from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA. For commercial passenger flights alone, the increase was 64 percent.

But at the Rochester airport, there has been no significant change in the number of these incidents. During the same period, there was only one episode considered to have caused "significant potential" for a collision, when the pilot of a private plane landed on the wrong runway in 2007.

Altogether, the FAA recorded 28 so-called "runway incursions" at the Rochester airport during this 10-year period. Almost all were considered to have posed little or no risk for a collision or weren't rated at all.

That's a good record, and it's thanks to the airport's proactive approach to heading off problems, Giardino said.

Anyone who drives a vehicle on the airfield, whether it's a snowplow or a truck for a deicing crew, has to undergo annual training and be licensed by Giardino. If someone breaks the rules, they may be required to undergo more training or have their license suspended or revoked — steps that the airport director said he has had to take quite rarely.

"Everyone is supposed to comply with the rules of the airport, and ignorance is not an excuse," he said.

A team of FAA staff, airport employees and companies that service and maintain aircraft meets at least monthly to review any incidents and steps needed to prevent them in the future. Among other things, that team also reviews so-called "hotspots" — areas of the airport where extra attention is needed to prevent accidents.

For example, one taxiway leads directly from an airport ramp to a runway, Giardino said. That's an older feature of the airport — the FAA usually requires taxiways built today to include turns before entering a runway to help ensure that aircraft do not enter the takeoff and landing area inadvertently.

Air traffic controllers are particularly careful about requiring pilots to read back instructions on how to use that taxiway, Giardino said.

"Since we brought it to the attention of the air traffic controllers, they're very cautious," he said.

Airport staff also meets routinely with commercial airline representatives to discuss safety issues. Pilots for non-commercial flights also are invited annually to the airport to tour it and get more familiar with the airfield.

The key is not delaying conversations about potential problems, Giardino said.

"It's more of a see something, say something approach to doing it, where we don't put off an issue and say we'll address it at next year's meeting," he said.

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