FAA reports progress on runway safety

 - November 1, 2007, 6:19 AM

As the result of a “call to action” on runway incursions last August, the FAA announced last month, the U.S. aviation community has initiated and completed “significant short-term” actions to improve safety at major airports in the U.S.

“We set out to complete a runway safety review of 20 airports–a list based on runway incursion data and wrong-runway issues,” said acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell. “All 20 are completed, and we’re tracking the initiatives identified at each airport as a result.”

Two general aviation airports– Dekalb-Peachtree in Atlanta and North Las Vegas–were included, and others will be added later. The FAA said the reviews resulted in short-, mid- and long-term initiatives.

According to the agency, short-term actions included upgrading airport markings at medium and large airports with more than 1.5 million enplanements, and getting all airports certified under FAR Part 139 to voluntarily upgrade existing markings, even though they are not required to do so.

“As a result of this call to action, 43 large airports have upgraded their airport markings,” said Sturgell. “At smaller locations, 22 airports did so voluntarily. We’re also seeing an upswing in current training for people with access to movement areas.” He added there is similar headway in the cockpit and with pilot simulation training.

Serious incursions–classified as A-level and B-level–totaled 24 for FY07, which ended September 30. That is down from 31 the previous year and represents an all-time low. C-level incursions were down from 75 to 49.

D-level incursions, where there is no apparent safety problem, rose from 224 to 298 in what Sturgell called a “precursor” event. “We know this boost is partly attributed to increased awareness and better reporting,” he said. “But we also know there were read-backs that were letter perfect, then the pilot followed through with the wrong action.”

A surface runway management panel also identified the need for more improved taxi instructions. Hank Krakowski, a former airline pilot who is COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, said that a review of taxi clearances revealed the need for “an explicit clearance with a routing” to the runway.

The FAA said that it has reached an agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to begin an air traffic safety action program similar to the aviation safety action programs and flight operational quality assurance programs that the airlines and their unions have had for several years.

Sturgell said the next steps are to continue checking off the list of initiatives that were developed by the FAA and industry; and, in the longer term, to look at technology.

“Besides the short-term focus, at the call to action, we committed to looking at ways to develop and accelerate new technology for the mid and long term,” Sturgell
said. “At the FAA, we’re planning to accelerate the deployment of ASDE-X [Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model X] by a full year [from 2011 to 2010].”