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Dipierro Helping Make Runway Operations Safer

Giovanni Dipierro is the manager of the FAA’s Runway Safety Group. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he has more than 30 years of air traffic control experience. Dipierro has served as an FAA Academy instructor, terminal procedure specialist and Dallas Fort-Worth Airport air traffic manager.

Q: Please provide an overview of the mission and current goals for FAA’s Runway Safety Group.

The Runway Safety group is focused on reducing the number and severity of runway incursions and wrong surface landings by increasing situational awareness of pilots, vehicle drivers and air traffic controllers.

Working in partnership with external stakeholders, the Surface Safety Group and Runway Safety Council include numerous industry organizations, such as NBAA. The collaboration with industry stakeholders is key to reaching the numerous general aviation pilot groups. Having industry input in developing the numerous educational videos (one of our more successful educational platforms) ensures surface safety risk is communicated correctly to the diverse audience we strive to reach.

Technological improvements in aircraft, control towers and vehicles are also key to reducing runway incursions and wrong surface landings. The Runway Safety Group, working in collaboration with the Office of NexGen, evaluates proposed solutions that will alert a pilot, vehicle driver or air traffic controller to a runway incursion or a wrong surface landing.

Currently, ASDE Taxiway Arrival Prediction (ATAP) is active in 41 of our 43 surface surveillance facilities. Building on the success of runway status lights, Runway Safety is evaluating proposed solutions that will alert pilots or vehicle drivers when a runway is not safe to cross due to conflicting traffic. The group also is working with industry to expand the use of digital copilot solutions to prevent runway incursions and wrong surface landings.

“Getting to know your local air traffic controllers and developing a relationship with your home airport is a great way to understand expectations on both sides of the mic.”

Q: What are the latest statistics related to efforts to reduce runway incursions?

In Fiscal Year 2021 there were over 44,000,000 operations in the National Airspace System, with 1,568 runway incursions. Our data shows that 66% of these incursions were attributed to pilot deviations, 17% to vehicle/pedestrian deviations and 15% due to controller actions. The final 2% fall into a category defined as “other.”

When we shift our focus to wrong surface operations or runway confusion, over 80% of these events are attributed to general aviation pilots. These include student pilots with minimal flight hours and seasoned pilots with thousands of flight hours. Typically, wrong surface operations occur at airports with closely spaced parallel runways with staggered thresholds and at airports that have parallel taxiways that run the length of the runway and can be mistaken for a runway.

Q: With wrong surface operations currently being the major focus, what are the FAA and industry jointly doing to address this critical safety concern?

Wrong surface operations are defined as landing on an incorrect runway or taxiway, or departing from an incorrect runway or taxiway and landing at an incorrect airport. Runway Safety tracks these operations at every towered airport in the National Airspace System. Working collaboratively with the FAA and external stakeholders, a work group was formed to address depicting wrong-surface risk on airport diagrams. Numerous months of planning and coordination are about to conclude with a complete overhaul of our airport diagrams.

Airport diagrams are being updated with three distinct shapes – circles, ovals and cylinders. The circles and ovals are reserved for airport hot spots. The cylinders are a new addition to alert pilots to wrong-surface risk due to runway confusion. Eleven airports have been selected to participate in tests to evaluate the effectiveness of these shapes as a mitigation to runway confusion. In addition to the new shapes on airport diagrams, Arrival Alert Notices will be available in chart supplements. Arrival Alert Notices are created for wrong surface arrivals to give pilots a clear picture of the hot spot issue. These changes are effective May 19.

“Airport diagrams are being updated with three distinct shapes – circles, ovals and cylinders. The circles and ovals are reserved for airport hot spots. The cylinders are a new addition to alert pilots to wrong surface risk due to runway confusion.”

Q: What other actions can business aircraft operators take to further reduce runway incursions and wrong surface events?

Planning is key to avoiding runway incursions or wrong surface landings or departures. A thorough preflight briefing will alert pilots of the surface safety risk at their intended departure and arrival airports. Clear and concise communication with ATC will eliminate any confusion that contributes to potential risk.

To help reduce the occurrence of wrong surface incidents, runway incursions and other high-risk events at U.S. airports, the FAA has developed the “From the Flight Deck” YouTube video series, targeted to general aviation audiences. Each four- to five-minute video focuses on approach, landing and taxi scenarios at selected U.S. airports. The videos feature high-definition footage from cockpit-mounted cameras, along with professional graphics, animations, runway diagrams and narration to help identify and illustrate airfield hazards and hot spots. All “From the Flight Deck” videos are available at https://www.faa.gov/airports/runway_safety/videos.

The series was started in January 2020 and now covers more than 70 airports. It includes five single-topic videos, including Wrong Airport Landing, Wrong Surface Landing, and Hold Short! The videos have been viewed more than 300,000 times and are a great way for pilots to familiarize themselves with an unfamiliar airport prior to their flight.

Q: At the local level, what can pilots and operators do to promote runway safety?

Getting to know your local air traffic controllers and developing relationships with your home airport officials are great ways to understand expectations on both sides of the mic. Every towered airport in the National Airspace System holds a yearly Runway Safety Action Team (RSAT) meeting, which are intended to foster dialogue between controllers, airport operators, pilots and vehicle drivers.

Participating in your local RSAT, as well as at airports that you frequent on a regular basis, will help stakeholders discuss issues in a collaborative setting. Due to the pandemic, many of these meetings were held virtually in recent years. As we ease into our new normal, in-person meetings are starting to gain momentum.

Runway Safety will conduct nine Special Focus RSATs in 2022. These meetings are targeted, based on the risks associated with specific airports, to include runway incursions or wrong surface operations.

Participation from local pilots is key to addressing these risks. If you want to participate in your local RSAT, visit faasafety.gov and search for “RSAT” to find a list of upcoming events. Contacting your local control tower manager is another way to find out when the next RSAT will be held.

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