Dec. 3, 2019

The FAA announced that runway safety lights (RWSL) are now fully operational at 20 U.S. airports, following completion of the automated safety systems at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Designed by FAA to reduce the number and severity of runway incursions, RWSL consists of two sets of red alert lights embedded in runway pavement. Runway entrance lights, located at runway crossings, illuminate when a runway is not safe to enter or cross, while takeoff hold lights are located on runway centerlines and activate when it is not safe to takeoff.

Automatically driven by the airport’s ground surveillance system, the lights provide a valuable additional layer of safety. “Pilots need to be familiar that the RWSL system supersedes instructions from the controller,” said Alex Gertsen, NBAA’s director, airports and ground infrastructure.

“It’s critical for operators to know that the RWSLs are not visible from an air traffic controllers’ vantage point, so they must be obeyed even if the action contradicts ATC instructions,” advised Bridget Singratanakul, national runway safety representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “Hold your position and communicate what you see to the controller and wait for additional guidance.”

A 2017 runway incursion incident at McCarran International Airport (LAS) in which a business aircraft pilot proceeded to takeoff in spite of the illuminated red lights – incorrectly assuming that the controller also saw the lights – illustrates the importance of understanding RWSL operation and adhering to the indications provided by the lights at all times.

With RWSL now installed at all initially approved airports, Singratanakul, is optimistic that the technology will continue to spread. “We still hope that this safety enhancement will be deployed beyond the current 20 airports,” she said.

Review the FAA’s full list of RWSL airports.