From what I learn, in large towered airports, the control of who enters and leaves the runways belong to the Control Tower Operators.

And that got me thinking:

  • Is there any Equipment or System in large airports to warn the tower of something/someone entered or is crossing the runway?
  • $\begingroup$ In any (not just large ones) towered airport the control of who enters and leaves the runways belongs to the tower. That is a point of having a tower. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Aug 19 '15 at 21:00

Yes, there are several systems.

The simplest are REALLY BIG WINDOWS (and binoculars):
ATCT - Interior/Windows
When the entire wall in front of you is a big expanse of glass looking out over the runway there's a good chance you'll notice something trying to roll onto the runway.
Many runway incursions are detected visually.

Really big windows don't work as well when you have multiple runways and larger airport complexes though, so we have some technological solutions too. The most common is Automated Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE), the one being deployed today is ASDE-X.
This is basically "radar on the ground" which interrogates aircraft transponders and shows the controllers which aircraft are where on the airport surface:
ASDE-X display, KORD

There are also systems on the ground designed to prevent incursions, but those are mainly for use by pilots.
These include Runway Status Lights, taxiway guidance lights (which include "stop bars" that light up on hold-short lines), and "runway guard lights" (which may be mounted either in the pavement or alongside the taxiway/runway intersection).

Many of these systems can be controlled from the tower, either by automatic systems or manually by the controllers.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Those 3 links at the end of your answer go a long way toward answering my developing question about runway/taxiway lighting. Very informative, thanks! $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Aug 19 '15 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ with ASDE do ground vehicles get fitted with some kind of simple transponder to make them more visible to the system? I imagine a tug might have a fairly small radar cross section. Or would that not pass cost / benefit? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Aug 19 '15 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW Yes - ground vehicles on airports with ASDE systems are usually fitted with a "ground vehicle transponder" to report their location to the system. This probably doesn't cover every possible ground vehicle (e.g. the luggage truck that stays on non-movement areas may not have a transponder), but airport operations vehicles and ARFF equipment will be equipped, for obvious reasons. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Aug 19 '15 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to warning for taxiing pilots, there are FAROS (Final Approach Runway Occupancy System) indicators approved for evaluation at certain airports in the U.S. This system will flash the glide slope lights (PAPI/VASI) if an aircraft is detected to be in the way of an arriving aircraft, which alerts an approaching pilot to go around if he's below decision height. Incursion can be determined by a system as cheap as an inductive loop in the asphalt under the threshold and numbers (same as the technology for controlling on-demand traffic lights), or by IR sensors, ASDE, etc. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Aug 20 '15 at 1:05

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