Runway Status Lights

Runway status lights logoThe FAA is pursuing a wide range of activities to improve runway safety. One of the leading safety technologies, called Runway Status Lights (RWSL), is being developed and tested by Lincoln Laboratory. RWSL is a system of surveillance-driven status lights on the airport surface that provides aircraft flight crews and vehicle operators with a direct indication that a runway is occupied or in use by a high-speed aircraft. RWSL has the potential to substantially reduce the risk of a collision by increasing the situation awareness of pilots as they operate large and small aircraft, as well as vehicle operators, at the nation’s busiest airports.

Types of Status Lights

RWSL includes four types of status lights: Runway Entrance Lights (RELs), Takeoff-Hold Lights (THLs) (see photo below), Runway Intersection Lights (RILs), and Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS). Figure 1 shows an example of a RWSL airport configuration.

Takeoff Hold Lights (THLs) at Los Angeles International Airport.

Lincoln Laboratory RWSL Role

Lincoln Laboratory’s primary role involves the design and test of surveillance fusion and threat detection algorithms, display development, training and outreach to pilots, air traffic controllers, and vehicle operators, as well as continual evaluation of the operational system including analysis of technical performance and user feedback at Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and user feedback from pilots and controllers at San Diego (SAN) International Airport.

Lincoln Laboratory’s support benefits RWSL by leveraging prior experience defining and developing high quality airport surface surveillance systems for the FAA Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE) radars and the operational knowledge gained on the earlier Airport Surface Traffic Automation (ASTA) program.

Major accomplishments

Between 2005 and 2009, RELs and THLs were installed at DFW and LAX; and RELs were installed at SAN.  With continued support from MIT Lincoln Laboratory and ARCON Corporation, the FAA has extended operational evaluations of RWSL at these test airports indefinitely.  As a result of successful operational evaluations, the FAA announced the decision to certify and deploy RWSL to 22 major airports in the U.S. National Airspace System (read FAA press release).

Ongoing Work in RWSL

Next steps include an operational evaluation of RELs, THLs (including new safety logic for crossing runways), and NEW RILs at Logan International Airport (BOS) in Spring 2010. Lincoln Laboratory will also continue to support the technical performance and human factors efforts at DFW and LAX as well as assessing the user feedback at SAN.

More information on Runway Status Lights (including animations and recorded data of the system in operation) is available at a dedicated website: http://www.rwsl.net

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