Comair crash may lead to broader use of runway alerting systems

 - September 27, 2006, 12:20 PM

Honeywell hopes the Comair crash prods airline executives to take a closer look at a software upgrade for its enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) intended to warn crews of runway safety conflicts.

Called the runway awareness and advisory system (RAAS), the software pinpoints the location of runways at larger airports and periodically passes along information about them to pilots. Former NTSB chairman Jim Hall was quoted last month as saying that had RAAS technology been in use the crash might well have been avoided.

“This is a piece of equipment that could have saved 49 people from being burned to death,” Hall told the Associated Press. “But because of the economic interest of the aviation industry,” it is used by only a handful of airlines.

RAAS uses voice callouts to advise pilots when they are approaching a runway, when they are on a runway and when the amount of runway remaining is critically short. Tommy Littlejohn, director of flight operations for Honeywell, explained that in the case of Comair Flight 5191, the pilots would have heard at least three RAAS advisories before proceeding irretrievably far down a 3,500-foot runway used by light GA airplanes.

“They would initially have heard ‘Approaching Runway 26’ as they got close to that shorter runway,” Littlejohn said. “And then once they turned onto the runway and basically were more or less lined up with the centerline, the next callout would have been, ‘On Runway 26.’ Here’s where a little added notification might have been of service to those pilots.” Because Runway 26 was too short for the CRJ200 to take off from, RAAS would have provided length-remaining callouts immediately after the airplane started its takeoff roll, providing an additional cue that something was amiss.

While many business jet operators have been quick to adopt the technology, on the airline side only Alaska Airlines, Air France, FedEx, Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines have ordered RAAS, according to Honeywell. The software carries a list price of $19,000 per airplane.