July 10, 2013

A recent spike in runway incursions at Quad City International Airport (MLI) in Moline, IL led representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team (FAASTeam) to issue a safety advisory to pilots operating at the Class C airport.

The bulletin also serves as a reminder for all pilots to take steps to avoid similar errors.

In fiscal year 2012, the FAA recorded 1,150 runway incursions at airports across the United States, with 18 of those incursions categorized under the most severe “A” and “B” ratings, indicating a sharply increased potential for collision. Pilot deviations accounted for more than half of total incursions (722) and, of those, 82 percent were attributed to general aviation (GA) operations – a percentage that has remained largely the same over the past decade, noted Chris Pokorski with the FAA Office of Runway Safety.

“Runway incursions are almost always due to pilot error and often result from relatively simple errors that may have been easily avoided,” Pokorski said.

Over the past two years, 11 runway incursions have occurred at MLI, with seven reported since January 2013. GA pilots were responsible for four of those incidents. Although FAA figures indicate that 80 percent of all runway incursions occur as aircraft taxi out for departure, roughly half of all reported incursions at MLI involved traffic that had just arrived to the airport.

“Since the reopening of Runway 5/23 in October 2012, the complexity and size of this intersection seems to be leading pilots to exit onto an active runway instead of the assigned taxiway,” the FAASTeam advisory explained. “The volume of traffic and the airport’s complex runway and taxiway configuration require exceptional vigilance and situational awareness by all persons operating on the airfield.”

NBAA Central Regional Representative Bob Quinn noted MLI’s field configuration may also play a role.

“With the exception of arrivals to the southwest, the runways all meet at a point that would appear to be a convenient turnoff for most landing traffic, though the intersection warning does not characterize the landing issue but instead refers to a ‘wrong runway departure’ risk,” Quinn noted.

Miscommunication between pilots and controllers may also be a factor, particularly at airports where intersecting runways may be used to clear arriving traffic off the active runway. The FAA noted that 226 incursions attributable to operational incidents or errors involving an air traffic controller were reported in FY2012.

“Pilots and controllers do use intersecting runways for exiting active runways, but this procedure needs active anticipation and participation by the controller and pilot involved,” Quinn added.

Look for Airport Surface ‘Hot Spots’ and Maintain Awareness

NBAA Operations Service Group Specialist Peter Korns said that the FAA has published extensive guidance for flightcrews to mitigate the risk of runway incursions, including reviews of airport runway signage and steps for maintaining situational awareness.

“Avoiding runway incursions comes down to risk mitigation,” he said. “Pilots need to develop taxi briefings, maintain situational awareness and focus on task management, especially on complex airport surfaces and around hot spots.” These “hot spots” identify runway and taxiway intersections with a known elevated risk for incursions and appear on airport diagrams.

Pokorski added that a recent addition to the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge should also help to combat the problem.

“Our department worked with the flight standards department to develop an update to the handbook with guidance for instructors to provide training on surface maneuvers,” he said. “Such training wasn’t specified before, and as we developed this guidance, we discovered that even instructors were having problems with interpreting airport signage.”