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Saab Global

Saab’s Air Traffic Control Safety Systems are Keeping Airline Passengers Safe

3 min read

Air traffic controllers worldwide trust Saab’s surveillance and air traffic control automation tools daily to ensure flights arrive and depart safely. Saab’s solutions provide critical situational awareness in low-visibility conditions and drive automated alerts that act as life-saving safety nets. Our customers count on our surveillance products to provide data that allows them to identify – and stop – any potential mishap early. Airline passengers around the globe trust Saab with their lives every day, even if they don’t know we’re there.

Saab’s air traffic control products include cooperative surveillance sensors, like multilateration and ADS-B, surface movement radars, and decision support tools for air traffic controllers. Our ASDE-X system, used by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has been credited by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association with playing an essential and possibly life-saving role in avoiding aircraft collisions on multiple occasions. The system alerts controllers with an audible and visible alarm when another aircraft enters an active runway.

“Our surveillance products give air traffic controllers full situational awareness. They provide a compressed view of where all the aircraft are at that moment in time and constantly scan for and identify potential traffic conflicts,” said Rick Smith, Saab Director of FAA Programs. “Situations develop quickly on an airfield. A combined audio and video alert is used to notify air traffic controllers before an incident can occur so that they can quickly prevent it. Air traffic controllers must trust our data is correct to give accurate and effective control measures and keep aircraft and people safe.”

One notable example of how Saab’s air traffic control safety systems keep passengers safe is the prevention of a collision between two aircraft full of passengers on the runway at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in January 2023. What could have been the worst disaster in modern FAA history was avoided due to the professional actions taken by the air traffic controller on duty and the support provided by Saab’s ASDE-X and Runway Status Lights (RWSL) systems.

Saab’s ASDE-X system was crucial to this save

According to the FAA, one passenger plane – a Boeing 737 with 140 passengers aboard – was taking off from JFK when another plane, that did not have clearance, crossed the same runway from an adjacent taxiway. After being alerted by Saab’s safety systems, an air traffic controller saw the potential collision and commanded the pilot preparing for takeoff stop the plane. The pilot aborted takeoff and initiated an emergency stop protocol after the plane had already reached a speed of 115mph. The departing plane stopped only 1,000 feet – about .3 kilometers – from where the other plane was crossing in front of it.

Saab’s ASDE-X system was crucial to this save. The RWSL system is an advisory system of lights embedded in the pavement of runways and taxiways that alerts pilots to stop when runways are not clear and safe for takeoff. The RWSL system lights automatically turn red when other traffic makes takeoff dangerous. RWSL also played a key role in keeping both aircraft safe during the JFK incident.

This video from the FAA, Rollin’ With Captain Nolen – Making a Difference on Runway Safety, highlights the importance of Saab’s solutions in preventing a collision at JFK and in ensuring the safety of passengers in the sky and on the ground.

“In the situation at JFK, both the ASDE-X and RWSL worked perfectly and produced a great save that we are proud of,” said Wade Wagner, Manager of the ASDE/RWSL Operations Engineering Subteam at FAA.