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November 16, 2013

Boston airport unveils system to detect debris on runways

BOSTON — A new automated system to detect debris on airport runways has been installed on a runway at Boston’s Logan Airport, the first in the U.S. with the technology that officials said would help prevent costly damage to aircraft and potentially save lives.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, airport owner Massachusetts Port Authority and developer Xsight Systems, an Israeli firm with U.S. headquarters in Boston, unveiled the $1.7 million FODetect system yesterday. FO stands for foreign object.

The system was installed on one of the airport’s busiest runways, officials said, and will enhance the existing practice of airport personnel manually checking for debris several times a day.

Small sensors mounted on runway light fixtures continually scan the runway for debris, which can include dislodged airplane parts, chunks of asphalt and other objects, said Christa Fornarotto, associate administrator of the FAA. Video cameras transmit the image to airport personnel that can identify the debris and determine if it warrants immediate removal.

“You can clearly visualize how great a safety improvement this is,” said Fornarotto.

Runway debris can lead to damage totaling billions of dollars for airlines and airports each year and, in rare cases, serious accidents, officials said.

The deadliest accident on record linked to airplane debris occurred in Paris on July 25, 2000, when a metal strip that detached from a Continental Airlines plane fell on a runway at Charles de Gaulle airport and punctured the tire of an Air France Concorde. Bits of rubber from the tire punctured the Concorde’s fuel tanks and caused the plane to crash shortly after takeoff, killing 113 people.

Fornarotto said she was not aware of any fatal accidents involving major airlines in the U.S. linked to runway debris.

Miami’s airport has accepted a grant and could be the next major American airport to deploy the system, she said.

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