Industry teams to address runway information issues

 - September 13, 2006, 10:28 AM

The Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 overrun accident at Chicago Midway Airport last December 8 has led to two significant developments for operators. The first was the FAA’s issuance of a policy letter June 7 that mandates the addition of a 15-percent safety margin to expected actual landing distance for Part 121, 135 and 91(K) (fractional) operators. That policy is expected to go into effect in time for winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

The second result was the agency’s convening an FAA/industry workshop to discuss the problem of dissemination of timely and accurate runway contamination information. The workshop was unrelated to the safety margin policy letter, despite industry speculation that the policy would be discussed at the meeting.

The FAA invited airlines, charter and fractional operators, airports and aviation alphabet groups to participate in the August 7 and 8 workshop. In response to AIN’s request to attend, the FAA said that the press was not invited to the workshop. The agency provided the following information two days after the workshop.

“The reason for the workshop,” said Jerry Ostronic, lead for the FAA’s air carrier operations branch landing performance team, “was a promise kept to industry.” Feedback after the policy letter was issued indicated that operators want help obtaining more accurate and timely runway surface information. When runways are contaminated by rain, ice or snow, operators said they need reports that describe the runway’s condition in a consistent, accurate manner, and there needs to be a better system for disseminating these reports. That was the focus of the workshop.

“Like anything,” Ostronic said, “there’s room for improvement. This was the industry getting together collectively and deciding what they could do to make what is already a pretty good system better.”

About 70 people attended the workshop, and they broke into four work groups to address specific issues related to runway contamination information (see box below).

“The next steps are up to industry,” Ostronic said. “Each one of those work groups had a leader and follow-up action.” Progress reports and information presented at the August workshop will be posted on the FAA’s AFS-200 Web site. There is no formal deadline for delivery of results.

Meanwhile, in an August 10 letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey the
National Air Transportation Association (NATA) expressed concern to the FAA about the landing distance policy. NATA believes that the requirement for operators to assess actual landing distance while in flight is “ambiguous and confusing” and “is rulemaking by [FAA] guidance and OpsSpec/MSpec.”

By the middle of last month, the FAA had yet to issue the new OpsSpec/MSpec C082 that operators will have to use for compliance. The policy letter’s original deadline for operator compliance was October 1, but operators were to be required to deliver proposed procedures for compliance by September 1. The FAA expects to push those dates back a few weeks, although NATA has asked for a 60-day delay.

NATA’s specific problem with the new policy–besides its bypassing the normal regulation-creation process–is that the Southwest Airlines accident involved a Part 121 airline and that the policy addresses the needs of only those airlines. “The Part 135 and 91(K) communities were not specifically considered in the development of this notice,” NATA wrote in the letter to Blakey. The policy, the letter explained, does not consider the types of airports charter and fractional operators frequent, where control towers may be closed and there is zero information about braking action and runway condition.

“The FAA policy notice,” according to NATA, “does not provide any clear guidance to operators and flight crews as to how to determine braking action under these circumstances and whether a landing is permissible given these facts.”

Runway Condition Work Groups

• The braking action work group is developing a draft document to focus on standard terminology for braking action.

• The runway surface condition work group included primarily airport personnel, and it agreed also to tackle the terminology standardization issue as well as report format. This would include, for example, listing the depth of snow followed by the depth of ice in a so-called “snow-tam” (used by ICAO).

• The technology work group plans a longer-term view of how technology could be applied to problems caused by runway contamination. One idea was to use Flight Operational Quality Assurance data to determine deceleration rates for various airplanes and pass that information on to the industry.

• The dissemination work group is focusing on getting standardized and useful information about runway contamination to dispatchers and pilots. This group will look at how this information could be broadcast to recipients sooner.                –M.T.