PRESS RELEASE: MSP officials refuse to consider safety risks in 2015 budget hearings

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) staff said last January that the NTSB warning about aborted landings (1 Jul 2012) "did not apply to MSP."



25 October 2014
Questions: Email

MSP officials refuse to consider safety risks in 2015 budget hearings.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) staff said last January that the NTSB warning about aborted landings (1 Jul 2012) "did not apply to MSP."

After an investigation initiated by the South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC), NTSB Acting Chair Christopher Hart wrote directly to SMAAC (22 May 2014), that “Safety Recommendation A-13-24 … separation requirements for operations on non-intersecting, converging runways became effective at MSP on April 2, 2014.

“FAA developed an Arrival/Departure Window (A/DW) plan to (ensure) the necessary spacing between converging arrivals and departures.”

Mr. Hart’s letter reported that FAA is developing “tools” to help pilots and controllers keep aircraft safely separated and avoid risky maneuvers at low altitudes. The tools include in-cockpit displays and new air traffic control computer software still under development.

SMAAC notes that there have been no apparent changes to date in operations during peak hours or a reduction in the reported number of aborted approaches or arrivals.  We are seeking more functional, cost and schedule information from FAA, not an easy task.  Because facilities at MSP have been built and more are planned to increase safe capacity, we asked the MAC to identify capital improvements related to safety and how they were synchronized with FAA and airline A/DW and flight automation deployments.

FAA “manages” safety risks in a variety of ways, weighing the risks compared to “efficient” runway operations and airline schedules. For this purpose, they maintain a Safety-Risk Management plan for MSP operations. SMAAC proposed a reduction in operations at peak hours to increase ground and flight safety, reduce airport and airline costs per flight (and potentially fares and fees), and reduce noise and pollution per flight.

So far, the MAC has categorically refused the requests.

For more details, please see our white paper, Is MSP too busy to be safe?

The facts seem to support one of three conclusions.

  1. An A/DW for MSP incorporating existing ATC procedures, and an automated A/DW converging runway display aid in all aircraft, and enhanced airport surface detection software or equipment is needed to safely maintain one-minute intervals on the MSP parallel runways; or,
  2. A temporary A/DW plan requires more controller and pilot attention, communications, and real-time information (display) monitoring, and therefore depends heavily upon airspace management plans, airport capabilities, MSP-specific safe separation exceptions, automated surveillance system displays, standard terminal arrival routes, and training enough controllers and all pilots.
  3. The R35 A/DW may reduce conflicts between R35 departures and independent R12-30L/R operations at MSP by exacerbating separation issues and conflicts between R12-30L and R12-30R operations, including aborted approaches, runway-use conflicts, and ground-traffic management.

We continue to doubt, as the NTSB certainly should, that operations-per-hour at MSP and other busy hub airports could have been safely increased by half by additional displays or more complicated flight automation in the last 15 years, considering the quality and depth of training and the fits and starts in deployment, variety, and reliability of automated systems because go-arounds by R35 arrivals were "mitigated."

We understand that MAC staff briefed the MAC Planning, Development and Environment Committee (PDE) that every landing on R35 was “slotted" between parallel runway operations to allow for occasional aborted approaches. SMAAC could not confirm this real-time scheduling directly with the MSP FAA Air Traffic Control Tower or indirectly (Flight Tracker).



SMAAC wrote NSTB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman, 7 Feb 2014, questioning the statement and asking about the FAA’s response. Five days later, an NTSB Air Traffic Control Investigator was assigned and contacted SMAAC. Within two weeks, the NTSB investigator wrote SMAAC that the warning, limited to airports with runway operations that used runways with “conflicting headings” did apply to MSP.

The warning was that aborted arrivals (landings) on one such runway (MSP Runway 35) would enter airspace in use by departures from the other runway(s) increasing the risk of a collision or dangerous low-altitude emergency maneuvers. At MSP during peak use in westerly flow, R30L/R departures are frequently cleared at one-minute intervals, with an R35 arrival every minute and a half. The three runways are considered independent, and on the parallel runways (R30L, R30R) arrivals are scheduled alternating with departures.

NTSB investigators reviewed the MSP airspace management plan and scheduled intervals with FAA. They found that the procedural changes implemented over several months at MSP after the 16 Sep 2010 near-mid-air collision, designed to reduce “air crossings” after near-simultaneous departures off the parallel runways further limited the options available in the case of aborted approaches: not only “go-arounds” after aborted landings on R35, but all operations.

SMAAC noted that communications between 3 or 4 air traffic controllers and as many as 50 aircraft approaching MSP in “landing patterns” were difficult. The NTSB investigator concurred. The ATCT manual procedures have been supplemented for several years using Instrumented Landing Systems (ILS) and auto-piloted approaches. FAA had planned to implement Performance-Based Navigation (PBN, or PBN/RNAV).

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