WASHINGTON - A federal safety agency, alarmed by high numbers of near-collisions between planes on U.S. runways, recommended yesterday that pilots stop at every runway intersection - a move that could slow the pace of airport operations.
The National Transportation Safety Board also expanded its long-standing call for the Federal Aviation Administration to design a warning system that would keep planes from encroaching on one another while taxiing around an airport.
The FAA had no immediate response but said it would take a close look at the safety board's recommendations. While the NTSB cannot order the agency to take action, most of its safety recommendations ultimately are adopted.
Serious runway safety violations that create a collision hazard for planes are a near-daily occurrence, with 321 incidents last year around the country. The problem worsened during the 1990s as airport congestion grew.
"I find it disappointing that there are still few effective measures to deal with this dangerous problem," said safety board Chairman Jim Hall. "The record of runway accidents and incidents over the years continues to be a major cause for concern."
A key NTSB recommendation would require pilots to stop every time they reach a runway intersection and radio an air traffic controller for permission to cross.
Currently, pilots get clearance to taxi to their destinations on the airport surface and may cross any runways in between.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association - representing private pilots - has been pressing for the new rule recommended by the NTSB.
But controllers complain that the more restrictive procedures could add to their workload, clog radio frequencies and distract them from other duties. The airline industry is also likely to be cool to the proposal, since it could add to delays.
"Any time you require an additional task, you will take attention away from other tasks," said Thomas Farrier, safety coordinator for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.