Incursions must remain FAA priority

 - July 6, 2007, 6:01 AM

In a report released in late May, the Transportation Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said the FAA has made “significant progress” in reducing runway incursions compared to five years ago. But it cautioned that the serious risks associated with runway incursions underscore the need for maintaining vigilant oversight and a proactive approach to preventing severe accidents.

Between May 2006 and April 2007, the OIG reviewed runway incursions at four major airports to assess the FAA’s actions to identify and correct the causes of recent runway incursions at those airports and address issues that could affect safety system-wide.

The DOT OIG focused on FAA programs for reducing runway incursions and did not evaluate the status of runway safety technologies such as the Airport Surface Detection Equipment-Model X.

Agency Focus Shifts
The DOT investigators found that several FAA-wide efforts to reduce runway incursions–initiated in 2001–have waned as the number of incidents declined and the FAA met its goals for reducing the number of such incidents.

The FAA’s Runway Safety Office was established in 2001 to provide central oversight and accountability for implementing runway safety initiatives throughout the agency, according to the OIG’s report, but the office has not had a permanent director for more than two years. In addition, it was reorganized and realigned twice since the establishment of the Air Traffic Organization.

Meanwhile, the FAA’s National Plan for Runway Safety, which defined the agency’s strategy and prioritized its efforts to reduce runway incursions by including specific activities, milestones and the organization responsible for those activities, has lain dormant since 2002.

FAA officials told the DOT OIG that the FAA Flight Plan took the place of the National Plan for Runway Safety and that each line of business is responsible for including runway incursion initiatives in its own annual business plans. The OIG maintains that the individual business plans do not have the same national focus and emphasis as the National Plan for Runway Safety.

The OIG provided the FAA with a draft copy of the report on April 6, and the FAA gave a formal response on April 30. “While FAA senior officials verbally agreed with our recommendations when we briefed them on our audit findings and recommendations, the FAA’s formal response does not explicitly state whether the agency concurs or non-concurs,” the OIG wrote. “In addition, the actions proposed by the FAA were unspecific as to how or when the agency would address the intent of our recommendations.”

Inspector-General Findings

• Better information sharing is needed to identify root causes of pilot deviation and to communicate best practices that have effectively reduced runway incursions.

• Additional focus is needed on controller human factor issues and training to improve individual, team and facility performance.

• Greater authority and accountability at the national level is needed to ensure that runway safety remains a priority for all lines of business.