Boeing, Embraer Team On Runway Safety Project

 - December 18, 2012, 12:01 AM
When aware and in control of a situation, flight crews can make effective and timely decisions to ensure a safe landing. (Photo: Boeing)

The loosely defined safety partnership entered by Boeing and Embraer in April yielded its first tangible results with Tuesday’s announcement that the two companies will collaborate on a new set of “tools” designed to reduce the incidence of runway excursions.

The project involves what the companies call Runway Situational Awareness Tools, centered on new pilot procedures for landing an aircraft. Boeing and Embraer already have begun incorporating the new procedures into flight manual updates and expect to finish that task within six months. The package also includes a free training video Boeing expects to make available early next year. Finally, within roughly a year, the companies expect to finish formulating a detailed implementation plan to introduce joint technology and systems for the flight deck to improve pilot information about approach and landing.

A decade-by-decade statistical summary published by Boeing reveals that while controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) continues to decline and loss of control has stayed relatively stable over the years, runway excursion fatalities have increased. The reasons, said Boeing Commercial Airplanes director of aviation safety Corky Townsend, remain unclear. But the trends are unmistakable.

Speaking with AIN on the day of the announcement, Townsend explained that in studying 29 separate incidents and accidents, Boeing noticed three primary consequences of poor situational awareness: improper approach and landing speeds, touchdown location and use of stopping devices.

“In looking at those events, we have to make sure [the pilots] understand and have gotten the latest weather data, and they understand what their landing distance is going to be,” said Townsend. One training element, therefore, would involve proper performance of approach and landing assessment at the top of descent, and not just at the point of dispatch. The new procedures also include the addition of some “callouts” for deploying speed brakes, thereby ensuring the maximum amount of weight-on-wheels and, therefore, optimum braking.

The training doesn’t necessarily address human error, noted Townsend, but rather educates pilots to make better use of available technology.

“One of the pieces that we can do today, without new technology, is really improve [performance] with the capability that’s already embedded in the airplane,” she said.

“It is clear that there is an opportunity to improve just by getting some guidance out there.”

Beyond offering guidance, though, both Boeing and Embraer see an opportunity to collaborate on technological advances in the cockpit to give pilots the information they need to render better-informed judgments. Embraer executive vice president of engineering and technology Mauro Kern explained that the equipment—still in a relatively early developmental stage—would provide both visual and aural cues to aid pilots’ awareness during descent, approach and landing while not compromising intuitiveness.

“It’s all about providing the pilots with more information…more alerts…to improve their awareness,” said Kern. “We also agree with Boeing that the pilot needs to have full authority.”

In the context of landing an airplane, situational awareness means knowing how much runway remains, stopping performance, proper runway alignment and approach speeds, explained Townsend.

The equipment provision itself wouldn’t necessarily involve new hardware, but rather improvements to existing systems. “How the information would be displayed would depend on whether you have a heads-up display,” she said. “We have displays that would be available in a heads-up version as well as in an airplane without one, so it would portray itself on a primary flight display.”

“[In either case], the goal of the teams is to have as minimal change as possible to the airplane systems,” concluded Kern.