Tag: runway incursion

Runway Safety Action Teams- Coming Soon to An Airport Near You!

By now you’ve no doubt seen the video from Barcelona Spain, purporting to show a runway incursion that resulted in a Boeing 767 performing a low altitude go-around.  While the jury is apparently still out on whether that clip shows an actual incursion, here in the U.S. the FAA continues to press airports to minimize incursions and improve airfield safety.  One of the FAA’s primary mechanisms for helping airports do so are “Runway Safety Action Teams” (RSAT), and if you haven’t had an RSAT visit or meeting at your busy or complex airport, odds are you will in the near future.

So what, exactly is an incursion?  The FAA formally defines an incursion as “any occurrence at an airport involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft.”  Incursions are further classified as operational incidents, pilot deviations or vehicle/pedestrian deviations:
2014-07-15 07_46_43-Runway Safety - Runway Incursions - Internet Explorer





In an effort to minimize these incursions, FAA RSAT teams are tasked with “uniting those individuals and organizations that are actively involved in air traffic operations and movement of aircraft, vehicles and equipment on the Airport Operations Area (AOA). We  [FAA] look for participation from all major airport interests including tenants, fixed base operators, airport operations and maintenance personnel. Participants are asked to help develop recommendations and solutions to enhance surface safety. Those recommendations serve as the foundation for a site-specific Runway Safety Action Plan.”

So as a GA aircraft owner/pilot, why should you care?  Quite simply, the recommendations of an RSAT team are formalized in a Runway Safety Action Plan, which carries great weight, particularly at federally obligated airports that have accepted FAA airport improvement grant funds.   Absent broad user input, the Runway Safety Action Plan may include restrictions, procedures or airfield configuration changes that could have a signifcant impact on how you operate at your airport.  Fortunately, one of the most common RSAT recommendations is relatively straightforward- the identification and publication of airport surface “hot spots” where incursions are most likely to occur or have occurred.  These “hot-spots” are identified on airfield diagrams with a red circle, number and description, and airports with “hot-spots” are identified by FAA region at this FAA webpage– is yours one of them?

Here’s a quick case study of how an RSAT team recommendation might have had a signficant impact.  In a previous life, I worked at a very busy and confined single runway commercial service airport with extensive GA activity.  At this particular airport, a large portion of the primary (and only) parallel taxiway, was a contiguous piece of pavement with the non-movement area aircraft ramp, a configuration necessary to meet FAA runway/taxiway separation standards.  The only separation and delineation between the taxiway/movement area and ramp/non-movement area were painted markings- a red line (which quickly faded to pink) and the movement area boundary (below).


GA ramp contiguous with and extremely close to an active taxiway/movement area.

This airfield configuration, combined with a congested ramp and limited space, frequently resulted in GA pilots and passengers losing situational awareness and driving or walking onto the movement area and taxiway-  yep, a vehicle/ pedestrian incursion, even if no aircraft was nearby on the taxiway.  After a rash of these in a very short period of time, our airport was the subject of a special RSAT team visit, and one of the FAA’s preferred solutions was a complete prohibition of private vehicles anywhere on the airport ramp- clearly an unfeasible and unworkable solution.

But thanks to a proactive effort by airport staff to engage airport tenants in our RSAT meetings, along with a very engaged airport/user tenant group, we were able to collaboratively develop alternatives to this draconian proposal, reducing incursions and improving airfield safety without compromising users’ ability to efficiently and conveniently access their aircraft.

So will an RSAT team be coming to your airport?  RSAT teams are deployed by FAA region, and will typically focus first on the busiest or most complex airports, or those with a documented history of incursions.  While the FAA does not apparently publish a list of airports slated for RSAT visits, check with your airport manager, who will be the first to know at your airport.  If an RSAT meeting is scheduled, be sure to attend so you can weigh in with your experiences, thoughts and suggestions to improve safety at your airport without compromising its utility.  Without airport tenant and user engagement and input, RSAT meetings will not be as effective, and could result in local operational or procedural changes that are unduly costly or burdensome, or unreasonably limit access to your airport.






Photo of the Day: Go around!


We asked our Facebook friends, “When was the last time you did a go-around?” Answers ranged from “Today!” to “Never.” (Really? Never?) The discussion was enthusiastic as pilots shared the reasons behind the go-around: an animal on the runway; an aircraft that trundled out onto the runway; or some instances in which the pilot in command decided that the approach wasn’t working out. Interestingly, a side discussion developed on exactly what’s going on in this photo. Some folks seem to think we happened to be in the air when this happened. Bear in mind that Flight Training often stages situations to illustrate our articles—it’s rare when one of our highly skilled photographers “just happens” to be around—in an airplane—when a go-around occurs. Why is the airplane on short-short-short final so off-center? I’m guessing this photo didn’t make the cut precisely because the airplane was so far off the center line. And why was the airplane on the runway skewed to the right? Again, it’s not clear. Maybe the pilot taxied out so fast he spun out?—Jill W. Tallman


Aviation, if you haven’t noticed, is loaded with abbreviations and acronyms. There are FARs, the AIM, MAPs (not to be confused with maps), ILSs, and DHs, METARS, TAFs, and NOTAMS. Airspace used to have TRSAs, ARSAS, and TCAs…and I haven’t even mentioned NASA, which speaks acronym-ese. Speaking of NASA, all pilots are able to participate in the ASRS program, which brings me to ASAP.

ASAP stands for Aviation Action Safety Program, and it is commonly in use at Part 121 air carriers. At first glance, it appears to be just like the ASRS program, and it is…sort of. Like the ASRS, pilots and other participating employees can self-disclose when they make a mistake. For example, if a pilot taxis two feet over the hold-short line for a runway, he is guilty of a committing a runway incursion. Now, it is possible that the controller never saw it because of the vantage point of the tower. It’s also possible that no other aircraft was affected.

But the pilot still made a mistake and inadvertently violated a federal aviation regulation. Worse, it’s an area in which the FAA has been aggressive in the last few years to change pilot behavior because the safety ramifications and some accidents.

With ASAP, the pilot is able to fill out a form (usually online) and explain what happened, and if possible, why. In this case, it might be something simple (“I just screwed up.”) or it might be a previously unknown safety issue (“The paint was difficult to see, especially at night,” or “The flashing lights were not working”). The report then goes to a central data base where it is reviewed by a committee.

The committee can be called any number of things, but what’s important is who is on it. At unionized carriers (which is almost all of them), the committee consists of a representative from the FAA, the airline’s safety department, and the safety committee of the union. You typically won’t see chief pilots or anybody who can impose discipline on the pilots. The reason is that the program is built on trust and confidentiality.

Once the report is opened by the committee, they discuss it in detail, and decide how to act on it. If, in the above case, they agree that the incursion was simply inadvertent, they may close the report. Or, if they suspect something else may have been involved, such as fatigue or poor judgment, they may call one or both pilots in for questioning to see what might be done to prevent similar problems in the future. If the problem is poor paint or broken lights or a bad airport diagram, then the information is forwarded to the appropriate people as quickly as possible.

The only time a pilot can face discipline is if the committee agrees that the pilot deliberately violated a FAR or exercised poor judgment, or if the infraction was reported from someone other than the pilot (the assumption then is that the pilot may have gotten caught anyway, even without participation in the ASAP program). Acknowledging that you crossed a hold-short line because you were discussing impact of artificial turf on the lifetime batting stats of career designated hitters is bound to get you not only called in, but also may lead to a Letter of Warning from the FAA.

The overwhelming number of reports in ASAP files fall under “Oops!” banner, but many go deeper than that. Pilots can also report on any aspect of their company or FAA operation that they feel needs to be addressed. Examples run the gamut: Poorly designed approach and arrival procedures have been flushed out; better operational practices have been developed; charting errors have been corrected more quickly; and most importantly, better training has occurred because of the ASAP umbrella. ASAP is not a get-out-of-jail free card. It’s a tool that is used by the airline, the FAA, and the pilot community to maintain the highest level of safety.

There is much more to the program than what I have described, and it goes beyond pilots. Mechanics, dispatchers, and flight attendants can also craft ASAP programs, and the air traffic controllers also have their own. There have been a few instances when ASAP programs have been shut down by a participating group, and when that happens it almost always comes down to the suspicion that the necessary level of trust has been breached. Airlines and labor don’t always get along, but with ASAP, the level of trust is high, and the real beneficiary is not the participants, but the traveling public.—By Chip Wright