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Seven Years Ago, Congress Provided Over $36 Million in Federal Funding to Install Automatic Lighting Systems at NY Airports, Yet FAA Has Not Completed Construction -- This Past Weekend, a Caribbean Airways Plane Nearly Collided with a JetBlue Plane On a JFK Airport Runway

New York’s 3 Major Airports, Including JFK, Have Long Been Scheduled to Get New Runway Lighting Systems to Prevent Runway Accidents By Using Automatic Flashing Red Lights Embedded Along the Runway to Warn Pilots of Unsafe Crossing

Schumer: In Light of Near-Miss at JFK’s Runway This Past Weekend, FAA Must Move Full Speed Ahead on Runway Lighting Construction at NY’s Airports

In light of the recent near-collision at JFK Airport, and a series of other collisions or near-misses in recent years, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet completed installing potentially life-saving Runway Status Light systems at New York’s three major airports, even though New York’s is the busiest airspace in the nation and the systems have been fully funded for over 5 years. Schumer therefore called on the FAA to expedite construction and installation of Runway Status Lights –red lights embedded into the runway that can be turned on to signal to pilots that a runway is not safe to cross -  at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports. In light of the fact that Congress provided the necessary $36 million for New York’s airports to receive this system in 2007, and this past weekend’s near collision of a Caribbean Airways plane with a JetBlue plane at JFK airport, there is no excuse for the FAA to delay the installation of these safety measures any further. Schumer said that 9 out of 17 eligible airports have had the Runway Status Light system installed, but none of New York’s airports have an operable safety system that could avoid dangerous collisions between aircraft.

“The FAA’s installation of critical Runway Status Lights meant to prevent airplane collisions has been delayed for takeoff at New York’s three major airports, and after last week’s near-collision and other serious accidents, the FAA must get this working, ASAP. New York’s airspace is the busiest in the nation, yet JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports have been sent to the back of the FAA line for installation of this critical runway lighting system, that is proven to help prevent airplane collisions, even though funding has been available from Congress since 2007. We cannot wait for a deadly collision to occur before we prioritize the installation of this highly-effective light system at New York’s airports, and I’m urging that the FAA expedite construction and installation of this critical safety measure at New York’s three major airports,” said Senator Schumer.

According to the FAA, Runway Status Lights are designed to reduce the number, and severity of runway accidents between aircrafts, and serve as an added layer of safety without impacting traffic flow. There are two kinds of lights: Takeoff Hold Lights and Runway Entrance Lights. The lights are embedded in the pavement of runways and taxiways, and turn red to tell pilots and vehicle operators to stop when runways are not safe to cross. The lights automatically turn red when other traffic makes it dangerous to enter, cross or begin takeoff. The lights require no input from controllers and are designed to supplement existing air traffic controller tools and procedures. The system is based on inputs from surface and terminal surveillance systems, like sensors on the runway, radar, satellite and other high-tech systems. Schumer said that in the 9 airports across the country where Runway Status Lights have been installed, there’s been a clear improvement in safety. It has been found that this system provides timely warnings to pilots of potential conflicts, it creates no interference with air traffic operations and the lights have decreased potential runway incursions. Over the course of more than two years at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, runway incursions dropped by 70%.

The National Runways Safety Plan of 2009-2011 laid out a goal of beginning the installation of Runway Status Lights at seventeen airports by FY2010, including JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. The necessary funding for these systems has been provided by Congress, including $13.4 million needed to install the system at JFK, $11 million needed to install the system at LaGuardia and $12 million needed to install the system at Newark. Yet, despite the fact that funding for the program has been in place for over six years, the FAA has only achieved full operability at nine of the seventeen planned airports, not including any of New York’s three major airports. The other airports scheduled to receive Runway Status Lights include: Orlando International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and San Francisco International Airport.


Schumer highlighted several near-collisions at New York airports in recent years. He said that while there is no way to determine after the fact whether Runway Status Lights would have prevented these collisions, it’s clear that additional safety measures are critical to avoid future tragedy:


  • December 2014: The wingtip of a Southwest plane, which had 143 passengers and crew members on board, fell off after impact with an American Airlines plane, which also had 143 people on board, at LaGuardia.
  • October 2014: A Chautauqua Airlines jet (operating under the Delta name) with 44 passengers was clipped by a Royal Jordanian Airlines plane carrying 159 passengers at JFK. The Delta jet was parked and waiting to approach the gate when the nose of the other aircraft hit the plane’s tail.
  • May 2013: The wing of a Scandinavian Airlines jet, carrying 252 people, clipped the tail section of a United Airlines ExpressJet regional plane, carrying 31 passengers, at Newark. The ExpressJet plane was taxiing toward the runway in preparation for takeoff, with the Scandinavian Airlines plane following directly behind. As the Scandinavian jet turned right onto a different taxiway, its wing clipped the tail of the ExpressJet plane.
  • June 2011: A Lufthansa plane with 286 passengers nearly collided with an EgyptAir plane at JFK. The EgyptAir plane taxied into the Lufthansa plane’s path as it was approaching full lift-off speed as it was about to take off. The EgyptAir plane had turned the wrong way onto the runway, and an air traffic controller called the Lufthansa plane to cancel takeoff. According to news reports, the planes were only several seconds away from colliding.
  • April 2011: At JFK an Air France plane collided with a Comair plane, which had 62 passengers on board. The wing of the Air France jet struck the tail of the regional jet, spinning the smaller plane around about 90 degrees. The accident occurred at a taxiway intersection after the Comair plane landed and as the Air France plane prepared for takeoff.


Schumer today urged the FAA to expedite completing the construction of the remaining Runway Status Light systems and quickly move forward with identifying additional airports where the installation of the light systems could help prevent runway accidents.


A copy of Schumer’s letter appear below:


Dear Administrator Huerta


I write today in response to an incident over the weekend in which a Caribbean Airways plane (Flight 526) nearly collided with a JetBlue plane (Flight 1295) at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Luckily, the alert JetBlue pilots noticed the Caribbean Airways plane and were able to avoid what could have been a deadly collision. That said, this situation could have been prevented had the Runway Status Lights (RWSL) slated for construction at JFK been fully installed and operable. The FAA has a program focused on installing RWSL at a number of airports, and those airports included in Phase I of that program, like JFK, should already be operable. I urge you to expedite the construction of the remaining RWSL systems that are part of Phase I and quickly move forward with identifying additional airports where the installation of RWSL systems could help prevent runway incursions and incidents like this to be part of Phase II.  


In 2005 the FAA began testing the effectiveness of RWSL at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and in 2008 began entering into agreements with airports to install these new systems more broadly. The FAA moved forward with this program because it correctly recognized the importance of RWSL in preventing runway incursions and accidents. The National Runway Safety Plan of 2009-2011 laid out a goal of beginning the installation of RWSL at 17 airports by FY2010. Yet, despite the fact that funding for the program has been in place for over 6 years, the FAA has only achieved full operability at 9 of the 17 planned airports – this is simply unacceptable.  


Furthermore, despite being included on the FAA’s original list of 17 Airports, RWSL is not yet operable at any of New York’s 3 major airports – JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark. The necessary funding for these systems has already been provided by Congress including the $11M needed to install the system at LaGuardia, the $12M needed to install the system at Newark, and the $13.4M needed to install the system at JFK. With the funding in place it is of paramount importance that construction be completed as soon as possible and operability be achieved, so that dangerous incidents like the one this weekend can be avoided.  Given the importance of these systems I urge you to expedite the remaining steps needed to achieve full operability at the 17 Phase I airports and quickly move forward with identifying airports and a plan for Phase II of this important project.


Thank you for your attention to this issue and for your continued efforts to help make our skies and our airports safe.



U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer