A Sea Change in Radar Technology

January 31, 2011

The state-of-the-art ship Detection radar system at logan international airport gives air traffic controllers advance warning of vessels in boston's shipping channels that might interfere with air traffic.The FAA and Massport have been successful partners in making Logan an airport that the nation’s airline pilots – just last year — singled out as their Airport of the Year because of the many strides we’ve taken to protect the safety of everyone who uses this airfield.

The installation of a new, unique state-of-the-art Ship Detection Radar System at Logan was another giant leap forward. The ship radar provides Logan’s air traffic controllers real time information about any marine traffic transiting under the approaches of Logan’s critical, bad weather runway 22L/4R.

This $1.3 million Massport investment is an innovative solution that augments an existing system of infrared cameras to feed live pictures of traffic in Boston Harbor to air traffic controllers, both night and day and in all weather conditions. The Radar was designed and built by Prosensing, Inc. a Massachusetts company based in Amherst and included the technical expertise of the USDOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center located in Cambridge, MA.

This enhanced ship detection system is actually two radars that work in tandem to give air traffic controllers advance warning — even in fog and snow — of vessels in Boston’s shipping channel that might interfere with air traffic on 22L/4R.

The system provides a continuous stream of real time data to both the FAA Control Tower and Massport’s own Operation Center on the location, speed, direction and height of marine traffic operating within a pre-determined surveillance zone.

The radar system automatically alerts controllers whenever a tall ship is near the runway’s critical approach zone, so that controllers have ample time to warn pilots and respond themselves. The installation of this Ship Detection Radar system is the latest in a series of physical improvements and visual, procedural, and technological upgrades that Massport and the FAA – as well as the air carriers and other industry partners – have implemented to improve airfield safety.

These include:

  • A tower training simulator that provides a very realistic computer simulation of the Logan’s airfield in different weather conditions and traffic configurations to improve the skills of air traffic controllers who work at Boston Tower.
  • A runway status lights system that helps to reduce the potential for runway incursions by alerting pilots and other vehicle operators whenever they are about to enter an active runway.
  • The installation of an advanced ASDE-3X ground radar system, making Logan one of the first airports to get this state-of-the-art NextGen technology.
  • The pilot programs we are conducting at Logan to test a number of experimental technologies: One that alerts pilots and air traffic controllers of the presence of FOD – foreign objects and debris – on the runway; And another that alerts pilots and controllers of the presence of birds and other wildlife that aircraft might encounter on either takeoff or landing.
  • The accelerated program Massport employed to install improved markings, signage and lighting on Logan’s airfield – completing these improvements two years ahead of the FAA deadline.
  • And finally, the recent addition of Runway 14/32 as well as the new Centerfield Taxiway this summer that enhance airfield safety and efficiency by reducing the number of times that aircraft must cross an active runway.

These are just a few of the improvements that Logan and our airport partners have undertaken recently to improve safety in and around Logan’s airfield.