Runway Incursions - ATC - Aviation Information

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Runway Incursions

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The rate of runway incursions has steadily increased over the past few years and new procedures and safety measures must be taken in order to reduce this trend with the projected increase in air travel over the next decade. Many factors can be involved in a runway incursion to include weather, density of traffic, equipment failure, airport layout, and human error. The FAA has not adequately addressed the increasing threat of runway incursions and should take a close look at each of these factors to determine what additional actions can be incorporated to reduce these types of occurrences.


The worst aircraft accident in aviation history in 1977, was the runway collision involving two Boeing 747s in the Canary Islands. There was heavy fog on the airfield and after being delayed for a substantial amount of time, the Pan American World Airways and KLM flight were both given instructions to taxi. The KLM flight reached the takeoff point while the Pan Am flight remained on the runway and failed to exit on the taxiway instructed by air traffic control. In the thick fog, air traffic controllers could not visually observe the position of the two aircraft. The captain of the KLM flight started takeoff roll without instruction from air traffic control. The two planes collided on the runway resulting in the loss of 583 persons.


The FAA defines a runway incursion as any occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person, or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in a loss of separation with an aircraft taking off, intending to takeoff, landing, or intending to land. (FAA Safety report, 2006) Based on the FAA?s runway safety report covering fiscal years 2002-2005, there were approximately 262 million takeoffs and landings resulting in 1,475 reported runway incursions, an average of one per day. Over the past four years, seven of them resulted in collisions and one ended in four fatalities. In many other cases, pilots were forced to maneuver their aircraft beyond its tested capabilities to avoid a collision with another aircraft, vehicle/pedestrian, or other objects on the runway. This alone resulted in extra maintenance and inspections to ensure the aircraft did not suffer any major damage.

Runway incursions can generally be divided into three types: pilot deviations, operational errors/deviations, and vehicle/pedestrian deviations. Out of all the incursions that occurred from 2002-2005, pilots accounted for 57 percent type incursions, air traffic controllers for 23 percent, and vehicle/pedestrian deviations represented 20 percent. (FAA Safety Report, 2006).
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