June 20, 2011

The number of serious runway incursions at airports across the United States dropped more than 90-percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a recent announcement from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In 2010 alone, there were six serious incursions – half the number of those reported in 2009, the FAA reported. It was the second such year-over-year drop in a row.

“The entire aviation community can be credited with the remarkable success achieved in runway safety,” according to a statement recently issued by the FAA.

It could be as simple as a turn of phrase. Last year, FAA dropped the familiar ground control instruction, “Taxi into position and hold” to “Line up and wait,” a change made based on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). That brought the phrase in line with language recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The FAA reports that the decrease in incursions is also likely due to better technology. Included among the advancements in recent years that have helped increase safety and decrease the incident and accident rate are:

  • RWSL (Runway Status Lights), which are embedded in airport taxiway and runway pavement to improve situational awareness among both ground vehicle operators and air crews.
  • Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model 3/Airport Movement Area Safety System (ASDE- 3/AMASS), a radar-based system tracking ground movements of aircraft and vehicles. It alerts controllers when it detects potential conflicts on airport runways.
  • Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X), a more precise surface conflict detection technology based on integrated data from radars, transponders and Autmotaic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B).
  • Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS), a system now undergoing testing at two airports. This alert system flashes the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) at landing aircraft when it detects a runway conflict in the making.
  • Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) systems are now capable of showing pilots their own position as well as the position of other aircraft on the ground, increasing situational awareness among flight crew members. FAA is now researching EFB enhancements for in-cockpit ground safety improvements.
  • Low-Cost Ground Surveillance Systems (LCGS) are now being evaluated for placement at airports that have neither ASDE-3/AMASS nor ASDE-X systems. LCGS are intended to be especially useful during periods of low visibility and are now undergoing testing at Manchester Boston Regional, San Jose International, Reno/Tahoe International and Long Beach International Airports.

But, while advances like these are important, the FAA says the decreasing incursion rate is thanks to a host of other changes. For example, in 2007, FAA issued a Call to Action Safety Summit that included industry leaders, aviation organizations, airport officials and aerospace manufacturing firms. In the wake of that meeting, all aspects of the aviation industry launched an intensive effort to reduce incursions – an effort that included both human aspects and technological improvements. In four short years, evidence shows that the massive effort is paying off.

The FAA also instituted a number of programs to reach out to and retrain pilots on runway safety issues. These include seminars on new signage, lighting and markings.

“This heightened awareness, domestic and international cooperation, and the development of runway technologies are making a difference,” said the FAA statement. “Each year, runway safety continues to improve.”

NBAA is at the forefront of government-industry efforts to improve runway safety. The very latest information on the issue is available in the Runway Safety section of the Association’s web site.