On the runway, general aviation pilots account for the majority of incursions. But many of these can be prevented, avoiding disasters and protecting the safety of passengers. According to FAA calculations, of the 1,757 runway incursions counted in 2019, pilot deviations generated nearly 64%.
According to AOPA, factors such as pilot inexperience, low awareness, and confusion over ATC instructions are some of the top influences of pilot runway incursion. Other determinants include complex runway layouts, poor planning, and failure to adhere to SOPs.
Types of Runway Incursions
Per the FAA, a runway incursion is defined as “any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of an aircraft.” Here are the four ways runway incursions are categorized:
- Category A: A serious incident in which a collision was narrowly avoided.
- Category B: An incident in which separation decreases, and there is a significant potential for disaster, resulting in a time-critical corrective/evasive response to avoid a collision.
- Category C: An incident characterized by ample time or distance to avoid a collision.
- Category D: An incident that meets the definition of runway incursion, such as the incorrect presence of a single vehicle, person, or aircraft on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft but with no immediate safety consequences.
Now, let’s take a look at three of the proven best practices for runway incursion avoidance.
Practice Thorough Planning
The FAA advises that thorough planning for taxi operations is essential for a safe operation. Pilots should plan for the flight’s airport surface movement portion just as they prepare for the other phases of the journey. Prepping for taxi operations is an indispensable part of the pilot’s flight planning process. The FAA recommends that plans be completed in two phases.
The first set of plans should include Review Items. FAA advice states: “Because of the constantly changing airport conditions and guidance information, the pilot must be aware of any changes made to regulatory and guidance information sources.”
Briefing Items are also critical when it comes to runway incursion avoidance. Briefing items such as timing and execution of aircraft checklists, the expected taxi route, and displaying a current airport diagram are all beneficial.
Point and Acknowledge
The Point and Acknowledge occupational safety method helps avoid mistakes by pointing at important indicators and calling out the status aloud. My CFI Book website suggests that pointing at and calling out instrument indications and outside references will help a pilot maintain focus and concentration.
Know Your Hot Spots
An airport “hot spot” is typically a convoluted or confusing taxiway or runway intersection. Hot spots are prone to increased risk, having either a history of runway incursions or surface incidents. These hazards may be rooted in unusual airport layout, high traffic flow, deteriorated airport marking, incorrect signage, and low lighting, to name a few.
Attention must be paid to any complex intersections or areas designated on the airport diagram as hot spots to reduce a runway incursion risk. Sheppard Air explains that hot spots are often depicted on airport diagrams as open circles or polygons designated with “HS.”
To practice smart runway incursion avoidance, it’s essential to understand the potential risks and typical situations in which they occur. However, with thorough planning, intelligent focus techniques, and a solid knowledge of the danger zones, preventing runway incursions becomes much more manageable.