Dealing with runway incursions

View on the threshold of runway 06 with follow me car and a passing plane

For the biggest part of aviation history, the industry has enjoyed an excellent safety record. In fact, as time passed, operational conditions improved and our awareness on accident and incident prevention heightened. Nonetheless, anticipating that traffic numbers – hopefully – will reinstate to pre-pandemic levels very soon; it makes good sense to remind ourselves about safety in operations. For this reason, on this particular blog I concentrate on Runway Incursions.  For me, this is an operational concern, top on the list of safety priorities.  

Writing this article, I feel that I make a small contribution towards refining operational safety standards. After so many years working in dynamic environments, I have learned that we should constantly remind airside employees of the many obscured dangers and threats associated with residual risk. Experience has also taught me that a program of continuous education and awareness with respect to runway incursions is necessary and fitting.  

An evolution in safety thinking. . .

As mentioned on Document 9870, Manual on the Prevention of Runway Incursions ‘. . . an evolution in safety thinking has led to a change in focus. . .’ and this shift is extremely valuable. This is because both people and organizations started addressing the issue differently. We now give higher emphasis on issues like decision-making processes and accountability. As result, ICAO recently remade some of the relevant Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs), to reflect modern safety management techniques. A standardized approach on reporting and technical data is good example to illustrate how a global style of managing airside safety can bring enhancements for all.

For me, the main complexity in dealing with runway incursions is the number and diversity of factors responsible on causing these incidents. The list consists of operational, procedural, organizational, technical, administrative and logistical factors. Furthermore, each of these categories extends to other overlapping sets of influences. Take the aerodrome layout for example. Good planning should optimize operational efficiency and not affect detrimentally operational safety. The potential for runway incursion increases where the layout is complex, wrongly configured or poorly designed. Interestingly, layout inadequacy is often dependent on a combination of factors, not the result of just one single aspect. Aerodrome Design Manual, Document 9157, ICAO

Collaboration is one of the main solutions

Because of the complexity involved in trying to prevent runway incursions, it is essential for all stakeholders to work together. In my opinion, collaboration is one of the main solutions for the successful prevention of runway incursions. All airside operators, agencies, authorities, ATC and service providers should work together through relevant safety programmes and other associated schemes. Sharing information, related data and statistics should be part of the airport’s culture with the view that everyone can learn and improve performance. In fact, shared information should be used widely within the industry to improve safety learning. This concept of teamwork for preventing runway incursions works even better in conjunction with other organizational arrangements. For instance, a safety reporting culture, apt runway safety teams, producing charts with highlighted ‘Hot-Spots’ and appropriate awareness campaigns are few of many solutions that can work well locally.

Overall, if airports seriously want to reduce the risks associate with runway incursions then a robust safeguarding system should be implemented. The arrangements should consist of an effective inspection regime, an efficient maintenance program and a well-organized review, recording and monitoring platform. More importantly, the system must account for every eventuality and scenario.

Finally, it is widely accepted that airside driving is an important factor related to runway incursions. Therefore, where possible the system should minimize the chances for drivers to be near the runway vicinity. The alternatives can be the optimal use of other routes (i.e. perimeter roads), driver friendlier layout, enhanced maintenance schemes, automation of safety measures and advanced driver warning systems. Driver training and Competence Assessments are also very valuable mechanisms for increasing user knowledge and awareness.   

Runway incursion is a very serious issue that concerns all safety professionals and aerodrome administrations. This is a topic that no one can afford to let slip down on their list of safety priorities. It is crucial for staff who work in an airside environment to have very good situational awareness. Although conditions can make a difference (I.e. lack of daylight, adverse visibility) nonetheless, alertness has to be constantly high for those who work in close proximity to runway and/or near maneuvering aircraft.

Anyhow, as the industry is slowly recovering and traffic is returning to busier days we should all start thinking about safety once more. I do not suggest that anyone stopped thinking seriously about runway incursions but, it is natural to become a little complacent in quite periods. So after so many months having our airports been on ‘slow motion’ it is time now to regain our safety consciousness.    


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