WASHINGTON – Airline pilots need better warning systems to avoid collisions at increasingly crowded airports, federal accident investigators said Tuesday in announcing transportation safety priorities.
Other recommendations that made the National Transportation Safety Board's annual list of most-wanted improvements:
— Require children under 2 to be restrained in safety seats on airplanes.
— Require drug and alcohol testing to be done quickly after serious boat accidents.
— Try to prevent train crashes by requiring automatic control systems that compensate for human error.
As for airports, the NTSB cited an incident on Wednesday at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, where a US Airways Boeing 737 came within a few seconds of landing on top of a Comair CRJ that was about to take off.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which keeps track of such incidents, didn't report the near-collision because the US Airways airplane was ordered to abort its landing, according to NTSB spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi.
FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler said the agency only counts incidents if they actually happen.
"We are sending safety investigators down to look at the incident and see what can be corrected and what we can learn," Trexler said.
Between Oct. 1, 2004 and Sept. 30, there were 324 runway incursions, or events in which people, planes or equipment entered a runway by mistake, the FAA says. That's slightly fewer than the 326 reported the previous year, but there were already 34 through Nov. 3.
Though most of those incidents presented little risk of collision, three potential crashes were narrowly averted by vigilant pilots in Boston, Las Vegas and New York since July, according to the NTSB.
"We see a high-risk error every nine days," said NTSB Board Member Deborah Hersman. "That's just too much."
The FAA said it has lowered the number of the most serious runway incursions by 40 percent over the past five years.
The agency also announced recently that 14 airports are in line to have a new radar system installed that's designed to prevent collisions. That system, though, requires air traffic controllers to notice an impending crash and then to notify the pilots.
The NTSB wants to see systems that eliminate that middle step by warning pilots directly — with red lights that flash down the center line to indicate movement on or near the runway, for example.
Such a system is being tested now at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Trexler said.
Rory Kay, an airline pilot and safety spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said the NTSB was on the right track by pressing for technology that can alert pilots directly.
"We're working at more and more crowded airports," he said. "Some of these airports are very hard to navigate."
The safety board also said that the FAA had made progress in reducing the likelihood of explosions in airliner fuel tanks and preventing icing accidents.