Honolulu airport could lose runway for safety reasons

Local News

Honolulu International Airport could lose one of its runways under a plan to improve runway safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration and state airport officials are looking to reduce runway incursions, which happen anytime an aircraft or vehicle ends up on a runway it’s not supposed to be on.

At Honolulu International Airport, previous incursions have happened on the parallel runways.

According to the FAA’s 2014 runway safety report, Honolulu’s airport had the highest number of incursions: 30 in just one year. That’s compared to 21 at the Los Angeles airport, 13 at McCarran in Las Vegas, 12 at San Francisco, and six at Seattle-Tacoma.

That number has increased in recent years. Updated numbers from the FAA reveal 35 incursions occurred in 2015, and 39 in 2016. The incursions are recorded in federal fiscal years, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Honolulu International Airport currently has four runways. The Hawaii Department of Transportation is considering closing Runway 4 L 22 R after the high number of runway incursions.

The DOT said in a statement that because of the high incursion rates, it could impact future FAA grant revenues if it’s not addressed.

A decision hasn’t been made yet, but the FAA says it would be a temporary option.

Aviation analyst Peter Forman says closing one of the runways would impact smaller planes.

“At times when there is very heavy traffic, that could be a problem,” he said.

On average, 780 flights come in or out of Honolulu airport each day, including passenger carriers, smaller planes, and military aircraft.

“When you bring airplanes in and you lose the air traffic controllers, lose the option to bring somebody over to the other runway,” Forman said. “When airplanes gets too close to one another, I think you lose a safety buffer.”

The FAA says while Honolulu International Airport has some of the highest runway incursion numbers in the U.S. for several years, most of those incidents fall in the least serious categories.

According to the FAA, “Most dramatically referred to as a ‘near-miss,’ an incursion can actually take an almost benign form. For example, the least dangerous form might apply if a pilot edged the nose of his plane over a ‘stop line,’ akin to going a little too far when approaching a stop sign on the road. And an incursion isn’t merely when two planes are headed for a collision; about 20 percent of cases involve pedestrians and vehicles.”

The following statement was provided by the Hawaii Department of Transportation:

HDOT is coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and reviewing the possibility of temporarily closing runway 4L/22R at the Honolulu International Airport (HNL) in part due to the amount of incursions and maintenance. HNL has one of the highest incursion rates in the nation, which is an issue that could impact future FAA grant revenues if it is not addressed.

As safety is our top priority, we are striving to reduce the incursions and prevent accidents from occurring. Officials will determine how the closure would impact overall operation at the airport. The runway is primarily used by the general aviation community. Aircraft would continue to use the other three existing runways as approved by air traffic control.

Discussions are ongoing and details regarding the timeline are pending.

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