SAFETY & TECHNOLOGY
Combating runway incursions
Solutions include airport diagram prestudy, continuous monitoring during taxi, cockpit alerts, GPS equipment.
Low-cost technology and pilot responsibilities
Sensis ASDE-X multilateration ground station at ATL.
Another system that uses lights to warn pilots of an unsafe situation is the Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS)—an FAA sponsored research and development effort.
FAROS is an automated safety system that notifies pilots on approach to land that the runway is occupied or otherwise unsafe for landing. The warning alert notification is displayed to pilots by pulsating PAPI lights while on approach.
FAROS is being evaluated for long-term viability at LBA. The baseline FAROS will be enhanced to use surveillance via ASDE-X at DFW. Since many airport technologies are costly to implement, FAA has initiated the Low Cost Ground Surveillance (LCGS) program to evaluate systems to reduce runway incursions at small and medium-size airports by providing air traffic controllers with basic ground surveillance of runways and taxiways.
Sensis—whose LCGS solution leverages ASDE-X technology by using the same solid-state surface movement radar improved (SMRi) sensor and the same ATC display—will deploy its initial system to LBA.
The SMRi sensor meets the stringent requirements necessary for any surface sensor—namely, all-weather detection, high position accuracy and low false alarm rate. Even low-cost technologies take years of R&D and can entail a long certification process, leading to a costly and drawn-out implementation.
As a result, many low-tech solutions have been implemented to bring about reduced runway incursions. For example, some airports have improved their signage, both by adding more signs and by positioning them better.
Airport lighting has been improved to provide taxi guidance with use of centerline taxi lights, lead-on and lead-off lights to and from runways. Stop bar lights and runway guard lights—otherwise known as “wig-wag lights”—make runway entry points conspicuous.
Finally, enhanced markings have been painted on a number of taxiways leading to runway entry points, alerting pilots that the runway is within 150 ft of their present position. Even with the introduction of all these nice advances in runway incursion prevention, proper recognition and use of available resources, training and cockpit discipline are still required to prevent runway incursions.
Industry constituents, safety officials and, most importantly, pilots have all participated in developing procedures and standards for safe aircraft ground operations with the expectation of reducing runway incursions.
Many are plain commonsense measures. Here are some operating practices in use today. While taxiing, have the airport diagram available and review the chart for “hot spots”—locations on a movement area with a history or potential risk of collision or runway incursion—where heightened attention by pilots and drivers is necessary.
Pilots are encouraged to practice continuous monitoring of taxi progress and clarify ATC instructions when in doubt. In multicrew operations, maintain a sterile cockpit and make sure both pilots are on the same page by verbalizing intentions such as holding short or crossing a runway.
Managing the workload during taxi-out isn’t often given much attention, but conversing with cabin occupants and programming the FMS in complex or confusing areas can lead to unintentional consequences.
Proper phraseology goes a long way. Using the proper aircraft identification or call sign with each transmission makes the system work that much better. So do reading back hold-short instructions, takeoff and landing clearances, and avoiding the use of “cool” jargon such as “cleared to go” or “on the hold.”
Quite a few initiatives are being developed and implemented to reduce runway incursion rates. Individually, each will do its part in making airport ground ops safer, but none will eliminate the problem completely.
It will take a concerted team effort by everyone—pilots, controllers and vehicle operators—plus the technology and airport improvements to make a real difference. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of each crewmember as the last link in the chain to take the necessary actions, using all available information to operate safely in the airport environment and avoid catastrophe.
Steve Leon is president of HighTop, an aviation e-learning company. He is also an adjunct professor of operations management at UND and a 13,000-hr TT pilot.