Runway report surprises officials at SFO

Officials at San Francisco International Airport, in response to a federal report detailing runway safety violations, were surprised to find themselves on a report dubbing the San Francisco and San Jose airports as among the most likely to see near-misses on its runways.

Though the term “runway incursion” covers a broad range of protocol violations that can be as minor as a plane taxiing six inches over its mark, SFO and San Jose saw an uptick in more serious violations that could result in airplane collisions, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

There have been three incursions at SFO in 2007, according to SFO spokesman Mike McCarron, who noted that two of those incidents were due to errors by air traffic controllers, employed by the FAA. Just last week, an incursion team commended the airport on its runway markings and training processes, McCarron said.

The report found that SFO and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport were especially confusing for airline pilots to navigate, due to factors ranging from runway configuration to signage.

A serious incursion in May, in which two planes came within 50 feet of each other at SFO, may have contributed to the increased safety concerns, Gregor said.

An experienced air-traffic controller, who federal officials determined was at fault in the incident, inadvertently gave permission for one plane to take off while another was landing, said the National Transportation Safety Board.

“That was a Category A,” Gregor said. “We take those very seriously.”

Since 2001, runway incursions at SFO have been minor, according to FAA figures. On a letter-grade scale from A to D, where A is the most serious and D is the least serious, all incidents at SFO until the May incursion had been classified C or D, figures show. FAA officials will review their recommended runway safety improvements, including updating some of the runway signage, at a later date, Gregor said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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