Can you hear me now? Airport's new wireless gear makes hand signals obsolete
Wing walkers, airline workers who guide an aircraft as it backs away from the airport gate, haven't had a sure way of alerting a pilot to an obstacle in his plane's path.
They'd use hand signals, hoping the operator of the tug pushing the plane would see them in time to avoid a collision.
Now, Southwest Airlines is rolling out a wireless communication system that will allow them to talk to the tug driver, and the driver to the pilot.
The system is expected to be operational at AlbanyInternational Airport and other airports served by Southwest by Feb. 1, according to Marc Stank, a senior manager for Southwest Airlines.
Reed Stager, executive vice president of Flightcom, the company that makes the headsets and related gear, said he expects the equipment to be used with de-icing operations and other maintenance work performed around the aircraft.
"The operator in the bucket can communicte with the truck operator," he said.
The headsets also provide some ear protection from the jet noise on the tarmac, he said, while permitting workers to clearly hear one another.
Other carriers also are looking at the wireless system, Stager said, although none have yet made the systemwide commitment that Southwest has.
Stager said the systems can cost about $10,000 per gate, a fraction of the cost of repairing an airplane if there's a fender bender on the apron.