December 10, 2012

Improving airport surface operations is one of the top 10 items on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) 2013 “Most Wanted” list.

While most of the NTSB’s recommendations focus on FAR Part 121 air carriers and commercial airports, members of NBAA’s Safety Committee are quick to point out that the issue is equally important for business aviation. In fact, in its “Most Wanted” overview, the NTSB said general aviation pilots “are the single most prevalent contributor to the total number of runway incursions.”

There were 1,150 runway incursions in the 2012 fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, up from 954 total incursions in fiscal 2011 – a roughly 20-percent increase, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

However, incursions represent only one part of the airport surface operations issue. Runway excursions, which occur when an aircraft departs a runway during takeoff or landing, and ground mishaps all represent potential threats to any aircraft, said Eric Barfield, a broker with Hope Aviation Insurance and incoming chairman of the NBAA Safety Committee.

Business aircraft pilots are particularly susceptible to airport surface operation issues since they are often flying into and out of unfamiliar locations. “While airline crews often operate in and out of busy airports on a regular basis, gaining a certain amount of familiarity, business aviation pilots might only fly to a certain large airport only on an occasion, and therefore [might] be less familiar with the environment,” Barfield said.

“One of the main benefits of business aviation is the ability to fly closer to the places we need to go, and that often means operating out of smaller general aviation-only airports that may not have the robust infrastructure of a Part 139 [commercial] airport,” he added.

Barfield offers three recommendations for mitigating potential airport surface issues:

  • Using an iPad in the cockpit to view airport diagrams can improve situational awareness when operating on the airport. “I would suggest that when you’re introducing the iPad into the cockpit, you come up with a written training curriculum just as you would for any other training curriculum,” said Bob Conyers, director of safety management of Baldwin Aviation and a NBAA Safety Committee member.
  • Consider revamping checklists and other procedures. “Some of our Members have moved most checklist items to ‘after-start,’ which requires a bit more time in the chocks but results in having both pilots heads-up during taxi,” Barfield said. “For single-pilot operators, often the best advice is just to slow down. Take the time to copy clearances, complete checklists, etc. when the airplane is not moving. And don’t forget proper pre-flight planning and sterile cockpit procedures.”
  • Incorporate airport safety into education, recurrent training and awareness. Many free resources are available, such as the FAA’s own Office of Runway Safety website. Also, there are many local safety seminars and online courses.

NBAA’s Safety Committee has taken several steps in recent years to improve surface operation safety. In 2010, the committee commissioned a Ground Damage Working Group to study the issue. Also in 2010, the Committee commissioned a Runway Excursion Working Group led by Committee vice-chairman Steve Charbonneau. The group has made presentations at several NBAA events.

In 2011, the committee commissioned a Birdstrike Working Group, which led to NBAA becoming a founding member of the World Birdstrike Association, a group that raises awareness on bird and wildlife strike hazards to aviation.