FAA’s new Runway Incursion Initiative should be implemented by all airports

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The NTSB and the FAA have clearly stated that runway incursions[1] constitute an important area for safety improvement. On June 3rd, the safety agency issued a news release which started as follows:

“The FAA has made significant progress in improving runway safety at U.S. airports over the past 15 years by working with other members of the aviation community on education, training, marking and lighting, standard runway safety areas, new technology and airfield improvements.

The FAA plans to build on that success by working with airport sponsors over the next 10-15 years to further reduce runway risks through risk-based decision-making.”

[1] Runway incursions occur when an aircraft, vehicle, or person enters the protected area of an airport designated for aircraft landings and take offs.

It then announced a new program designed to reduce this specific airport safety risk.

The recent history shows a negative trend between FY 2012, FY 2013 and 2014. The numbers increase from 1150 to 1241 to 1264, respectively, or over those years a 9.9% increase. So the FAA statement may be true, when examined with a 15 year perspective, performance in this sector needs some attention/ improvement.

The new program, Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM), seems to find its analytical roots in the FAA’s Safety Management System use of data analysis and a 360° approach. The basic concept is to “identify airport risk factors that might contribute to a runway incursion and develop strategies to help airport sponsors mitigate those risks.”

The list of pre-identified incursion risks includes “unclear taxiway markings, airport signage, and more complex issues such as the runway or taxiway layout.” So, the first step in an SMS approach would be to gather all of those who operate in or manage these critical points. That means, while time-consuming and totally justified, the process should involve:

  • pilots (unlikely that any of them live at the airport being assessed),
  • the tower/Tracon (if any)/Center controllers,
  • the service provider drivers (baggage, food, fuel) who move their vehicles in this environment,
  • the airport staff (drivers and supervisors) responsible for snow management,
  • the airport executives with safety, construction, finance, operations, maintenance, purchasing, personnel/HR, community relations/noise and senior policy members.

The experience of other SMS exercises indicates that some of the most useful safety suggestions have come from folks whose job titles seem to be peripheral to safety. So this broad casting of those to contribute to the process has been shown to be productive.

The FAA Airports Division has already reviewed the macro data and has a list of airports “where runway incursions have occurred.” Those will be assigned a priority for the risk reviews with the FAA.

Additionally, it would be wise for every airport with more than an elementary runway layout to incorporate risk analysis for runway incursions in their annual or periodic safety review (or even on-going SMS process). The FAA’s information mentioned in this report would provide an excellent primer for assessing the possibility that an aircraft, vehicle or person incurs a runway.

Few airports are devoid of the need for RIM; recognition of signs, lighting, marking or runway/taxiway designations is easy for those familiar with your facility, but may be confusing to someone who is entering the AOA for the first time. The extra effort to use the RIM methodology may avoid an awful tragedy.

NEWS: FAA Implements New Airport Safety Program

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