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"Florida airport diagnoses runway light problems"
Thursday, June 3, 2004
Airport diagnoses runway light problems
Two outages called 'highly unusual'
By LAURA RUANE
The Fort Myers (FL) News-Press
Cable glitches with different causes kept Southwest Florida International's
runway in the dark twice in less than one month, forcing flight delays and
"It's highly unusual, exceptionally unusual," Peter Modys, aviation
director, said of the two occurrences so close in time.
Spokeswoman Susan Sanders could recall only two previous instances when
runway lights malfunctioned during the airport's first 20 years. The south
Fort Myers airport marked 21 years of operation on May 14.
A runway light cable that became dislodged from its connector caused Friday
night's outage, which lasted just more than 2.5 hours. Frayed insulation on
a section of buried cable less than a foot long was the culprit in the much
longer May 4 episode.
Modys can't say for sure what caused the runway light cable to disconnect,
but he has a theory:
A section of the cable that disconnected is near the edge of the runway. It
had been removed from an underground conduit because of ongoing work on a
new taxiway leading to the new passenger terminal under construction.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires barricades to separate the
runway from the taxiway-related construction. Some of these barricades
straddled the exposed light cables.
"We believe some of those barricades blew out of position, and pulled the
cable connector loose," Modys said. His crew thinks that rushing air when
jets take off could have moved the barricades. However, they haven't come up
with a way to prove their theory.
The exposed cable was reburied Tuesday, Modys said. Airport operations
agents, however, still are checking the barricades three times daily to make
sure they don't cause some other glitch.
Finding the source of Friday's outage wasn't as arduous and time-consuming
as the first occurrence in May, because airport workers checked the
above-ground cabling first. After discovering the problem about 7:50 p.m.,
lights were back on by 10:30 that night.
Although there were some delays, all departures scheduled for the evening of
May 28 left the airport, and eight of nine arrivals came in. One arriving
flight was canceled - Air Tran from Atlanta. The airline rebooked the
passengers for the next morning.
It is the individual airline's decision whether to land or to divert or
cancel a flight in these kinds of situations, Sanders said.
The Federal Aviation Administration does require airports to have generators
in case electrical service is interrupted; it also requires runway lights be
regularly inspected. However, there is no requirement for a separate, backup
runway lighting system, said Kathleen Bergen, Atlanta-based FAA spokeswoman.
These outages underscore one of the local airport's chief disadvantages: It
has only one runway. After the May 4 outage, spokespeople for several
Florida airports said they were not sure their facilities could handle a
similar outage any better if they had only one runway.
"Your best redundant system for airport lighting is a second runway," Modys
said after the first outage.
Southwest Florida International has a second runway planned, but it might
not be built until 2015, said Mark Fisher, airport development director.
That is because under FAA guidelines, runways are added only when yearly
takeoffs and landings reach certain thresholds.
With the airlines increasingly bringing in bigger planes to the local
airport, passenger growth is outpacing growth in takeoffs and landings,
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