L.A. airport runway safety record troubling, feds say

LOS ANGELES – It’s not a record you want to brag about: Los Angeles International Airport and two others nearby have the worst recent runway safety records among the nation’s busiest airports, a review of federal aviation data shows.

Federal officials are most concerned by the situation at bustling LAX, where commercial jets have come perilously close to crashing at least twice since 1999, the first year of data reviewed by The Associated Press.

The problem persists because, despite millions spent to reduce violations known as runway incursions, LAX’s airfield has built-in flaws: It’s too tightly packed and arriving aircraft must cross runways used for takeoffs.

Runway incursions occur when a plane or vehicle on the ground gets too close to a plane that is landing or taking off.

LAX, the nation’s fourth-busiest airport in terms of flights, has two sets of parallel runways. Planes land on the outer runways and, while taxiing to their gates, cross the inner runways, which are used for takeoffs.

Among the country’s 25 busiest commercial airports, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Long Beach Airport and LAX have ranked one, two and three in runway incursion rates – measured by incidents per 100,000 flights – since 1999. The three airports also topped the list for the total number of incidents, regardless of size.

Nationwide, the number of incursions has dropped about 20 percent from its 2001 peak. Airports in Boston, Philadelphia and Newark had unusually high numbers of incursions in fiscal year 2005; those in Denver, San Francisco and New York’s La Guardia had none, according to federal records.

Incursions spiked at 407 in fiscal 2001, FAA reports show, before dropping to 326 in fiscal 2004.

Federal attention has focused on LAX because the incursion rate has remained consistently high – even though officials say interim fixes have reduced the severity of the incidents, if not the number.

LAX has seen between six and 10 incursions annually since 1999, though FAA officials caution those numbers can be misleading. None of LAX’s eight incursions in 2005 posed an imminent collision risk, FAA spokesman Donn Walker said.

LAX is planning a permanent fix: a $250 million airfield renovation that officials say should eliminate most of the violations.

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