Air-Traffic Surface Radar Faulty at Los Angeles Airport

A VITAL piece of airport safety equipment was not working when a USAir Boeing 737-300 and a small commuter plane collided in a fiery crash on a Los Angeles runway, killing 33 people, an air safety spokesman said. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Jim Burnett said the key piece of equipment, a surface radar device, would have told air-traffic controllers that the two planes - one landing and one waiting to take off - were on the same runway.

Mr. Burnett said Saturday an air-traffic controller had given permission for the Boeing airliner to land on Runway 24-Left at Los Angeles International Airport, just 70 seconds after giving a Skywest Metroliner commuter plane permission to stay on the runway in preparation for take-off.

If the controller ``had any doubt about anybody being on the runway, she would have looked at the ASDE [Airport Surface Detection Equipment],'' Burnett said.

Los Angeles airport has two ASDE ground radar devices, but neither were in working order, Burnett said.

Following a ``near miss runway incursion'' in 1988, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered controllers to use ground radar between sunset and sunrise and at times of poor visibility, Burnett said. The collision occurred Friday evening.

Investigators Sunday found that the radar controlling the crash area was out of service.

The airport's second ASDE device, when tested, was reportedly malfunctioning as well.

Burnett refused to speculate if the tragedy could have been averted had the radar systems been working, but said there were a number of problems his board had detected.

Another radar system, which tracked aircraft up to 20 miles away, was also found out of order, and the line of vision from the control tower to the point on the runway where the collision occurred was totally obscured by four large light poles illuminating a car ramp, he said.

Since 1988, Burnett added, there had been 11 potential dangerous errors at the Los Angeles airport, the third busiest in the United States, either by pilots or by air traffic controllers.

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