Nov. 29, 2023

Vigilance, patience and training are the essential tools that will elevate business aviation’s runway safety record and ensure that the industry will grow, leading safety experts from the FAA, the NTSB and NBAA’s newly formed Runway and Surface Working Group said during a recent NBAA News Hour webinar, “Call to Action – Elevating Runway and Surface Safety in Business Aviation.”

Hosted by NBAA Director of Airports and Ground Infrastructure and staff liaison to the new working group Alex Gertsen, CAM, the webinar is part of NBAA’s new runway safety campaign that includes the publication of an updated, free 25-page publication, Reducing Runway Excursions in Business Aviation: A high-level guide on mitigating the risks.

During the webinar, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen noted the importance of addressing business aviation’s leading cause of accidents. “Safety is the very foundation of aviation. Unless we are safe, aviation cannot flourish; we need to be safe and we need to be perceived to be safe, and that’s our constant challenge and something we need to work on a daily basis,” he said.

“This year has been a particularly challenging one that began with a number of near misses and led to an FAA summit on safety,” Bolen added. “NBAA has taken the opportunity to use every tool possible to keep in front of all of our members the importance of being safe and [with this webinar] we have an opportunity to really focus on one of the most important areas in safety: runway and service safety.”

The webinar brought together NTSB Senior Air Traffic Control Investigator Betty Koschig, FAA Runway Safety Team Manager Scott Proudfoot and Pfizer Gulfstream G650 captain and NBAA Runway and Surface Safety Working Group member Ben Kohler, to discuss the complexities and misconceptions of runway incursions. They also looked at best practices for pilots to avoid entering protected areas of a runway without a clearance and what actions they should take should an incursion happen.

Poor situational awareness and a breakdown in communication between the cockpit and air traffic control are often factors in the four categories of runways incursion – operational incidents, pilot deviations, vehicle or pedestrian deviations and others – noted Koschig, who detailed recent incursions at Houston William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) as stark, real-world examples.

“These were professional pilots making mistakes. It really illustrates that things can get worse,” she said.

FAA’s Proudfoot pointed to a misconception that causes the most common incursion: crossing a hold line without authorization.

“An incursion is an incorrect presence of an aircraft, a vehicle or person on the protected area of the surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft. The one thing I want everyone to take out of this definition is the words ‘protected area,’ as that includes any area beyond a yellow hold line. Sometimes pilots will misconstrue an air traffic clearance to pull up and hold short of a runway [and] think that it is a clearance to cross the yellow line but hold short of the white edge line. That is not what that means: anytime you’re instructed to hold short of a runway, do not cross the yellow line,” Proudfoot explained.

Pilots can avoid incursions with a simple, three-step strategy, said G650 captain Kohler. “When I’m approaching the departure end of a runway, I want to eliminate any and all distractions, as many as I possibly can. I do that by, No. 1, being ready. No. 2, not rushing. And No. 3, doing the same thing every time,” he noted.

New technologies that can aid flight crews also were discussed, from new avionics tools like surface TCAS to external cues like runway status lights (which are installed at 20 airports, with more planned). Pilots were also guided to FAA resources like its Runway Safety Pilot Simulator, the From the Flight Deck instructional videos and pilot handbooks. Flight crews should also refer to Arrival Alert Notices and Construction Notice Diagrams in NOTAMs, the experts noted.