A unique NASA study released today shows relocating an
existing taxiway and using new procedures could improve
runway safety at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

In an effort to prevent planes, vehicles and other objects
from possibly colliding on the ground, NASA used a control
tower simulator to create computer-generated views of the
airport. These potentially dangerous incidents are known as
runway incursions and are a growing problem at busy airports
across the country.

Studies of a half-dozen potential changes at Los Angeles took
place at the virtual air traffic control tower, known as
“FutureFlight Central.” The two story high-tech tower
simulator is located at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett
Field, Calif. “The LAX simulation at FutureFlight Central was
the first attempt to model a major hub airport with
controllers and pilots interacting in real time,” said Nancy
Dorighi, who manages the facility at Ames.

“The state-of-the art simulator provided great insight about
how airline pilots interface with the air traffic controllers
in the LAX environment,” said Michael DiGirolamo, Los Angeles
World Airports’ (LAWA) deputy executive director of airports

LAWA, operator of the Los Angeles airport, received the final
results of the study today during its regular public meeting.
Airport managers and the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) now will review the details of the $485,000 study that
began in 2000.

“The FAA, LAWA and air carriers will work together to
evaluate the findings and determine what steps to take to
improve the margin of safety at LAX based on the NASA
findings,” DiGirolamo said. “Additionally, we believe NASA’s
work at LAX will lead to similar studies at other large

Researchers found that two potential scenarios that include
relocating an existing taxiway to the west side of the
airport could reduce runway incursions. Most simulation
alternatives concentrated on the two south runways, new
procedures and the potential new western taxiway.

Using the relocated taxiway on the west side of the airport,
instead of directing airplanes to cross in the middle of busy
runways between takeoffs and landings, could significantly
reduce the chance of incursions, according to Ames simulation
project manager Boris Rabin.

“It [the runway bypass] possibly relieves our runway
incursion problem areas. We are doing these simulations
because we want to look at all the possible outcomes and
impacts from these possible changes,” Raymond Jack, a chief
of operations at LAWA, said during one simulation run.

“Changes could possibly increase controller workload. That’s
why we’re trying them in a virtual environment. Before we
invest millions and millions of dollars, we can look at data
rather than making assumptions based on two-dimensional
computer models and engineering assumptions,” Jack added.

“We conducted multiple simulations,” Rabin said. “We tested
one change at a time to see what the impact is. This
procedure leads us to more certainty when we analyze the

“The test conditions concentrated on redistributing surface
traffic away from the congested south side ‘hot spots’
associated with runway incursions. Potential changes include
swapping inboard and outboard runways for arrivals and
departures, adding additional staffing to the control tower,
and using taxi patterns that reduce runway crossings by
airplanes,” Dorighi concluded.

LAWA officials, the FAA and the airlines formed a special
task force to develop possible measures and airfield
improvements that could reduce the likelihood of incursions.
FutureFlight Central offered a realistic means to test these
measures and improvements safely without disrupting the
airport’s 2,200 daily takeoffs and landings.