Oct. 26, 2017

A recent Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) aims to ensure aircraft operators, pilots and airport personnel are aware of the installation, meaning and use of runway status lights (RWSLs). This new alert is part of the FAA and aviation industry’s ongoing efforts to prevent runway incursions and collisions.

The RWSL system integrates airport lighting equipment with approach and surface surveillance radar systems to provide aircraft and vehicle crews a visual signal indicating when it is unsafe to enter or cross a runway, or begin or continue a takeoff on that runway. Red in-pavement airport lights are another layer of safety and signal potentially unsafe situations on taxiways and runways.

For example, runway entrance lights are located at runway entrances. When illuminated, they indicate that a runway is not safe to enter or cross. Takeoff hold lights are located on runway centerlines and illuminate when it is not safe to takeoff.

“Air traffic controllers do not see the lights from the control tower. We want to make sure pilots know they must always obey a red RWSL,” said Bridget Singratanakul, head of runway safety for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The FAA SAFO recommends that directors of operations, directors of safety, directors of training, chief pilots and others:

  1. Review aircraft and vehicle operator training and incorporate RWSL information and procedures;
  2. Provide RWSL information and resources on the use and location of RWSL installations to pilots and other personnel, as appropriate; and
  3. Incorporate RWSL use into training programs to foster recognition of RWSL signatures and standard procedures to follow.

Aircraft operators are encouraged to include appropriate runway-status-light procedures in their training materials. The FAA offers RWSL videos to assist operators. View the videos. RWSLs also were featured in a 2016 NBAA Flight Plan podcast. The episode may be used in pilot and ground crew training to increase awareness and importance of RWSLs. Listen to the podcast.

RWSLs are now operational at 17 airports across the U.S., with three additional airports scheduled to transition from prototype sites to operational sites over the next two years.

“Pilots and ground vehicle operators must remember, when given a clearance to access a runway and the lights are red, to stop; do not enter or cross the runway or initiate the takeoff roll,” said Alex Gertsen, NBAA’s director of airports and ground infrastructure. “Ask ATC for confirmation of instructions, and alert the controller that the runway status lights are red.”

Review FAA SAFO 17011. (PDF)

Review a map of the airports that are part of the RWSL production system.