Washington Report: GA runway incursions drop in FY 2002

 - August 12, 2008, 5:01 AM

Runway incursions at the 35 busiest general aviation airports decreased slightly in fiscal year 2002, according to a new report by the FAA Office of Runway Safety, reversing a three-year upward trend.

Overall, including commercial and GA airports, the number and rate of runway incursions decreased from FY 2001 to FY 2002, led by decreases in category A and category B (the two most serious) incursions. The rate of runway incursions dropped from 6.1 per million operations in FY 2001 to 5.2 per million in FY 2002.

The latest report covers FY 1999 (when the FAA issued its current classification system) to FY 2002. During that period, 85 percent of the runway incursions were category C and D events that involved little or no risk of collision. Although there was a downward trend in the rate of category A and B incursions, the rate of category D incursions continued to rise during this period.

Of the 10 category A runway incursions in FY 2002, two events were operational errors/deviations, six events were pilot deviations and two events were vehicle/pedestrian deviations. The FAA said the identi- fication of a runway incursion as an operational error/deviation, a pilot deviation or a vehicle/pedestrian deviation is not an identification of the cause of runway incursion; rather it is a classification of an error type.

From FY 1999 through FY 2002, general aviation represented 58 percent of all aircraft operations, whereas commercial aviation represented 38 percent. Military operations made up the remaining 4 percent. “Runway incursions most often involved two general aviation aircraft,” the report said. “In FY 2002, there were no category A runway incursions involving two commercial aircraft and six category A runway incursions involving two general aviation aircraft.”

The four-year trend for the 35 GA airports shows that the number and rate of runway incursions consistently increased from FY 1999 through FY 2001, when they reached their peak of 7.4 per million operations. However, traffic volume at those airports since FY 2001 has been down by nearly one million operations compared with FY 1999 traffic levels, and the runway incursion rate showed a slight decrease in FY 2002 to 7.1 per million operations.

Approximately 268 million takeoffs and landings were collectively managed at more than 480 towered airports in the U.S. during FY 1999 to 2002, the FAA said. Of these operations, 1,480 resulted in a runway incursion–approximately six for every one million operations. Of the 1,480 incursions, four resulted in collisions. Three of those collisions occurred at GA airports and included the only one that involved fatalities.

While it appears that business aviation accounts for a much smaller number of runway incursions than the larger general aviation community, NBAA said it is difficult to extrapolate the business aviation community from the remainder of general aviation due to the nature of how the FAA maintains traffic count statistics.

The FAA considers the 35 airports identified in its Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) to be the primary drivers of the National Airspace System in terms of system capacity, and these are the airports being targeted for capacity improvements to meet traffic demand over the next decade. “As the accommodation of this demand may affect surface safety,” the agency said, “it is important to understand runway incursion trends at these airports to anticipate and address potential risks.”

The FAA noted that runway incursion trends for the OEP-35 airports were relatively stable from FY 1999 through FY 2001. The first improvement–a 31-percent decrease in the number of runway incursions–occurred in FY 2002. The rate of incursions decreased from 6.6 per million operations in FY 2001 to 4.9 incursions per million in FY 2002.

The characteristics and trends for the 35 busiest airports for general aviation operations (the GA-35) were also explored to provide a complementary perspective to the predominantly commercial aircraft operations at the OEP-35.

The FAA and the aviation community are using the report’s findings to reduce the risk of runway collisions, as well as the severity and frequency of runway incursions. Armed with information, the FAA said progress is being made toward achieving runway safety goals. “Runway safety management, however, is not a static victory,” the FAA cautioned. “Rather, it is dynamic management of both current and emerging risks.”