Combating runway incursions

Solutions include airport diagram prestudy, continuous monitoring during taxi, cockpit alerts, GPS equipment.

By Steve Leon
ATP. Airbus A320/319, Boeing 767/757, King Air 200

Kollsman All Weather Window enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) improves situational awareness during ground operations at night or low-visibility situations.

In Mar 1977, when KLM Flight 4805 slammed into Pan Am Flight 1736 at TFN (then Los Rodeos, now Tenerife North, Canary Islands, Spain), killing 583 passengers and crew, runway incursions were suddenly brought into a whole new light.

This is serious business. More than 3 decades later—with a near perfect case study to learn from, including issues with human factors, airport design and communications—we’re finally seeing progress, but more work is needed.

Runway incursion prevention has been on NTSB’s “most wanted list” of safety improvements since the list was inaugurated in 1990. In Nov 2006, board members voted to keep the topic on the list.

They also voted to keep its red color code, which denotes that actions by FAA were “unacceptable” due to the length of time the recommendation had been open. It remains there today. However, FAA is increasing its efforts on all fronts to bring runway incursion awareness and prevention to the forefront of its safety plan.

Defining terms

FAA has adopted the official ICAO definition of a runway incursion, which is “any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft.”

A runway incursion does not require the presence of conflict to be classified as such. Runway incursions are separated into 4 categories according to severity, Category A being the most severe, Category D being the least severe.

Furthermore, runway incursions are assigned to any of 3 groups that commit the error—pilots, controllers or vehicle/pedestrian. Pilots commit nearly 2/3 of all runway incursions. Of the 1009 runway incursions in fiscal year 2008 (Oct 2007–Sep 2008), pilots committed 637.

Two myths surround runway incursions—that they occur in low-visibility scenarios (eg, at night or in IFR conditions) and that most involve inexperienced pilots. In fact, runway incursions can and do happen to pilots of all experience levels and in all weather and visibility conditions.

In the past few years focus on preventing runway incursions has gained momentum, and a collaborative approach between various industry insiders, governments, organizations and trade associations has resulted in a number of fixes, both high and low-tech.

A multipronged approach is necessary since no single approach or solution will fix the problem. Thus far, despite there being more than 5000 airports in the US, many of the airport preventive measures have focused on the busier commercial airports.

Honeywell’s SmartRunway provides graphical warning on the terrain display by showing an “On 35R” runway advisory for an aircraft turning onto Rwy 35R. (R) “On taxiway!” caution is displayed when a flight has attempted to take off while not on the runway.

Today, aircraft-based or onboard technology works for nearly all airports. Runway incursions occur due to loss of situational awareness (SA) which is facilitated by a number of contributing factors. Most noteworthy among these are complex and confusing airport layouts—not necessarily at the largest airports—and misinterpreting radio communications where accents, missed calls, blocked transmissions and nonstandard phraseology are common.

Pilot and controller fatigue also increase the chances of making mistakes. Failure to get adequate sleep impairs memory and the ability to perform complex tasks, such as the planning and problem-solving necessary to predict and resolve conflicts between aircraft. Sleep deprivation also leads to slower decision-making and lapses in attention.

Stress is an important factor, too. Like sleep deprivation, it impairs memory and decision-making skills. Signs of stress may include talking too fast or too loudly, sweating or moving close to the windscreen. While a little stress is energizing, too much leads to mistakes.

Complacency coming from a “been there, done that” mentality has bitten many great pilots. And finally, distractions from unnecessary flightdeck conversations, interruptions from the cabin and FMS programming while taxiing have led to runway incursions.

Technology front

A number of technological en­hancements within the airplane or installed at individual airports are being used today to combat runway incursions. In 2003, Honeywell launched its onboard runway alert and advisory system (RAAS), migrating to the enhanced RAAS known today as Smart­Runway.

Honeywell’s SmartRunway improves SA by providing aural and graphical positional advisories and alerts, without a moving map display. This capability is provided to crewmembers during taxi, takeoff, final approach, landing and rollout to reduce the likelihood of a runway incursion.

Muting of aural callouts and advisories is now permissible using the glideslope cancel button or a dedicated cancel button with the most current software release. SmartRunway uses Honeywell’s worldwide terrain and runway database to provide information for advisory and warning generation—thus GPS is not a requirement for its operation.

More than 1000 units are installed in business and GA aircraft, with similar numbers installed in airliners. Electronic flight bags (EFBs), ranging from laptops to permanently installed integrated units, incorporate airport moving map displays that provide a constantly updated view of an airport’s runways, taxiways and structures to help pilots identify and anticipate the airplane’s location on the surface.

Surface management system map showing Phase 1 capability for Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion.

Aircraft position, determined by GPS, enables the moving map to display actual aircraft position or “own ship” on the airport surface. Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated flight information system provides for own-ship moving map guidance to provide situational awareness in a “north-up” orientation.

Currently, there are no aural or visual warnings for im­pending runway incursions—however, future plans call for Pro Line Fusion to include an airport surface management system that will provide aural and visual warnings, “heading-up” orientation while using ADS-B and TIS-B technology to detect and display other aircraft.

Universal Avionics uses its UCDT III cockpit display touch screen interface or its EFI890R integrated display with a WAAS-enabled FMS. SA is provided using an own-ship airplane image with correct heading orientation overlaying an airport chart with moving map technology.



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