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San Jose Controllers Ask to Halt Runway Closure Until Safety Issues are Addressed - (3/28/2002)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Air traffic controllers working in the tower at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport are asking for the Federal Aviation Administration’s help in convincing the city of San Jose to suspend the closure and reconstruction of runway 30L/12R next week until a host of safety issues are properly addressed.

After the planned shutdown of 30L/12R, the airport will continue to operate using a newly constructed, 11,000-foot parallel runway (30R/12L) for all commercial air carrier and turbo-prop operations. This runway is located 700 feet east of the runway scheduled to be closed, placing it further away from the control tower, which is located on the west side of the airport. The control tower, constructed in 1995, has six floors and a tower cab. When it was opened, the airport was using only the 8,900-foot runway 30L/12R for commercial air carrier operations and two smaller parallel runways on either side. The problem with runway 30R - which next week’s changes will exacerbate - is the current size of the tower makes it extremely difficult to locate aircraft at the approach or departure end when aircraft are beyond taxiway “J,” according to Rich Burton, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s local chapter at San Jose Tower.

“The problem is more apparent at night, because background lighting from the continued expansion of buildings around the airport have made it almost impossible to locate aircraft on the taxiways and runways without using binoculars,” Burton said. To help alleviate the problem and help controllers continue the safe, expeditious handling of aircraft, NATCA is asking the FAA to install an Airport Surface Detection System (ASDE) before runway 30L/12R is closed. In the interim, the FAA will institute a traffic flow program which will reduce the number of arriving aircraft per hour.

"Our goal here, as in everything we do, is to ensure the safe movement of all aircraft and that's why we're deeply concerned with the planned temporary reconfiguration of the airport,” Burton said. “While we weren’t notified of the planned changes the standard 30 days prior to implementation, we are encouraged our management is briefing us this week. We'd like to be part of the solution to what we feel is a problem and that's why we urge the city to postpone the runway closure until these important safety issues are addressed.”

There are other safety issues in need of consideration as well, Burton added, including a rise in pilot deviations and runway incursions. In August 2000, airport representatives and the FAA met to discuss ways to avoid incursions, such as surface painted taxiway markings and guidance signs, but not many were implemented. In addition, NATCA feels the tower was constructed too close to the adjacent taxiway/runway, which obscures a portion of runway 29/11 and taxiway “V.” The FAA has not followed through on a suggestion to place a mirror or camera outside the tower to assist the controllers with this obstruction.

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