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Philly International In Line For Latest Safety System

Air Traffic Control

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — At Philadelphia International Airport on Friday morning, the jumbo jet was two and a half miles out on final approach. Another flight, American Airlines flight 1209 was on the ground, ready for takeoff, when air traffic controllers cleared the flight for departure.

“American 1209, the guy on final looks awfully close,” said the pilot.

And when the plane taxied onto the runway, the chartered 747 for the Phillies had to abort the landing.

“91 heavy, go around, climb and maintain 3,000, fly runway heading,” said the tower controller to the Phillies flight.

Although the airport says the flights were not close enough to be dangerous, the incident highlights the importance of runway safety. And Philadelphia International Airport is in line to get the latest safety system.

Called Runway Status Lights, the system alerts a pilot if a runway is in use. Boston’s Logan International is the first airport in the country to install the lights. Surveillance radar turns the lights on, so they become an automatic backup to air traffic controllers.

“If there’s a vehicle on [the runway], if there’s another airplane on it, if there’s an airplane on final approach, this is just another backup for controllers,” said Keith Brune, Acting Deputy Director of Aviation at the airport.

The FAA says there have been only six serious runway incursions nationwide this year, but a CBS 3 I-Team Investigation found 21 incidents between planes at Philadelphia International Airport that prompted FAA investigations.

In one case on June 8, a construction vehicle pulled onto the runway as a plane was taking off. The plane climbed above the vehicle, while another plane about to land had to go around.

With more than 1,200 takeoffs and landings every day, Philadelphia International Airport is one of the busiest in the country. Airport authorities said the new system will help make it one of the safest as well.

The FAA will install and pay for the system. Brune said construction could start within the next year or so and will take about six months.

Reported By: Oren Liebermann, CBS 3