Better training for pilots and ground personnel and technology are key to lowering the rate of runway incursions and excursions. Robert W. Moorman reports.

Dec. 31, 2012: Spirit Airlines Flight 403 had just landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. While taxiing to the gate, the Airbus A320, clipped the tail of a US Airways A320 parked in a remote part of the airport. The collision caused a gash in the tail cone section of the US Airways aircraft. The Spirit aircraft suffered no damage, but the incident caused consternation at Spirit Airlines, which said it was not advised by air traffic control of the presence of the other aircraft.

December 1, 2011: Southwest Airlines Flight 844 had just landed at Chicago’s Midway International Airport. The airliner was about to cross an active runway when the copilot spotted a Bombardier Aerospace Learjet barreling down the runway toward them. He yelled at the Captain, who was at the controls, to stop. The Captain slammed on the brakes, stopping at the edge of the runway as the business jet was taking off. Luckily, no one on either aircraft was hurt.

While there has been a recent spike in runway incursions – and some incidents may not meet FAA/ICAO’s strict definition of an incursion – the FAA saw a dramatic decrease in runway incursions between 2000 and 2007 and the rate has remained low until 2012. However, there is ongoing concern on curbing the rate of runway excursions, in which an aircraft departs a runway during landing or takeoff or while taxiing. An incursion can be defined as an unintentional operation onto an active runway or taxiway.

“Runway incursions is a known topic and there have been a number of mitigation tools developed. But excursions is an emerging issue about which we are concerned,” said Capt. Sean Cassidy, First Vice President for the Air Line Pilots Association, and National Safety Coordinator for ALPA.

“Excursions are much more prevalent than incursions,” added James Burin, former director of technical programs for the Flight Safety Foundation, now a consultant.

Improved Training

To reduce the level of incursions and excursions, several airlines augmented their pilot training programs and procedures following the FAA’s March 2008 Call to Action. Alaska Airlines is one of the more proactive carriers to enhance its pilot training programs to prevent runway incursion and excursions.

Alaska’s recent training initiatives have focused on reducing the threats of incursions and excursions by enhancing the airline’s capability to operate safely in all environments. These initiatives have been driven by new procedures, cockpit resource management (CRM) counter-measures and technology.

Over the last four years, Alaska has emphasized stabilized approaches as the first step to preventing excursions, said Captain Tom Kemp, managing director of Operations. The airline’s first Line Oriented Safety Audit (LOSA) in 2007 indicated a need to improve the stabilized approach performance. Accident investigators found that most runway excursions are linked with unstable approaches. As a result, Alaska tightened its stable approach criteria, mandating that a go-around be initiated if the stable approach criteria were not met. The airline has also instituted a “no fault” go-around policy.


Alaska has implemented several new procedures. Flight crews are now required to conduct formal “runway assessments” that prioritizes and utilizes critical data before departure. When leaving the gate, pilots must check Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs) for taxiway closures as well.

As part of cockpit resource management (CRM), the flight crew is required to review the taxi plan outbound and inbound for all takeoff and landings. Every “hotspot” on a planned taxi route must be reviewed and all taxi and runway instructions from ATC must be repeated to ATC, then repeated by the crew.

After landing, the flight crew is only allowed to stow the speed-break and bring up the flaps. This procedure was initiated so both pilots remain heads-up to look for traffic. Flows, the procedures and tasks the crew performs after landing, are not allowed until the aircraft is parked. These procedures were implemented specifically to increase situational awareness and avoid runway incursions.

New procedures have been implemented to help avoid excursions as well. The crew must now identify and determine in advance the “latest touchdown point” whenever aircraft operate into airports with short runways and/or in degraded runway conditions.

Alaska is one of the first airlines to incorporate Honeywell’s Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) into its simulators for training. RAAS is integrated into the aircraft’s ground proximity warning system (GPWS), and is particularly effective at providing aural alerts when the aircraft is taxing in an area in which it is not supposed to be. Runway crossings and clearances require the Captain to confirm aurally RAAS advisories coming from the artificial voice. [Editor’s note: RAAS is the forerunner to SmartTraffic and SmartRunway software now marketed by Honeywell.]

Kemp said Alaska could soon start using iPads with moving map displays as a tool to provide better situational awareness. Pilots will be able to determine the aircraft’s position on the airport in real time, which is particularly useful during low visibility conditions. Alaska is working with the FAA to attain authorization for this technology. Software in the iPads depicts an own-ship symbol and the device is limited to airport surface operations only, and to speeds of less than 40 knots. The Jeppesen application used by Alaska has this capability and the airline has also installed the moving map in its simulators.

Incursion and excursion training is mandatory at Alaska Airlines and simulated incursion capabilities have been installed in the full flight simulators. One simulated scenario shows a runway incursion at Anchorage International Airport in which a B747 taxis onto an active runway. The same scenario has been used for a simulated landing at Denver International Airport.

All Alaska pilots are required in recurrent training to practice degraded runway takeoff and landing operations in the simulator, using the Portland International Airport and Wrangall Airport, Alaska as examples.

Evaluating new technology to prevent incursions and excursions is a role Alaska seems to play with regularity. The chief reason for choosing this airline is the harsh environment in which Alaska flies frequently.

“We have great exposure to this because of the short runways up north and the degraded breaking action issues up there, and because we are flying bigger aircraft,” said Capt. Doug Burton, director of training.

New Technology

Alaska recently evaluated new technology to help prevent excursions. Safeland, designed by Aviation Safety Technologies (AST) and embedded in the wheels of Alaska’s B737-400s, uses available flight data information and transmits stopping calculations in real time through ACARS to the pilots. The technology measures the real time braking performance of the 737-400s, a big enhancement over current capabilities to measure runway friction.

Another advantage of Safeland is that it allows an objective criterion to compare with the more subjective process of pilot reports on runway braking capability.

“This provides an ‘apples to apples’ comparison in that we use the objective assessment of a B737 to inform the crew about to operate on a degraded runway,” said Captain Bryan Burks, an ALPA safety volunteer with Alaska Airlines. So far, Alaska Airlines’ comparison of objective measurements align fairly accurately with pilot reports of runway conditions, Burks added.

Alaska is currently conducting a case study to help develop ways of avoiding runway excursions. As a training benchmark, the airline is using the American Airlines Flight 331, which ran off the runway on Dec. 22, 2009 at Kingston, Jamaica. Factors in that excursion of the 737 included the high speed of the aircraft upon touchdown and aircraft landing halfway down the runway, according to the report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Runway excursion training is covered via the airline’s distance learning program and reinforced in classroom recurrent training and in simulator briefing sessions. Each Alaska pilot must complete three four-hour briefing sessions of recurrent training per year.

Other Players

Southwest Airlines (SWA) uses several safety tools to avoid runway incursions, according to Tim Leonard, Director of Flight Operations/Certificate Chief Pilot. SWA requires that its aircraft taxi with the transponder on anytime the aircraft is moving. This procedure is helpful at airports that utilize the FAA’s Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X), a situational awareness tool for enhancing runway safety, and reducing runway incursions. In 2011, Saab Sensis deployed ASDE-X to 35 major US airports. Saab Sensis is also a prime contractor for the FAA’s Runway Status Lights (RWSL), in which SWA and other airlines participate. RWSL serves as a warning to pilots that the runway is occupied.

Additionally, all Southwest pilots are trained and evaluated on low visibility operations which include the Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (SMGCSD) operations. During low visibility operations, SWA utilizes the heads-up guidance system from Rockwell Collins, which greatly enhances the pilots’ situational awareness.

SWA requires pilots to use “all available aircraft lighting” when crossing or entering the runway. Most carriers to whom CAT spoke utilize this see-and-be-seen procedure.

SWA has several procedures that require pilot verification and positive read back both to ATC and between the captain and copilot.

Leonard said SWA has an active Aviation Safety Action Partnership (ASAP) as well as a Flight Data Analysis Program (FDAP), which are used by the pilots to report all safety concerns. Southwest is partnered with multiple organizations that work to improve aviation safety. The groups include the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), as well as Airlines For America, ALPA, MITRE and NASA Ames.

“Together we participate in data sharing as well as many FAA and industry trade studies,” Leonard said.

Since the FAA’s Call to Action, Delta Air Lines has enhanced all aspects of training to include incursion and excursion instruction. A major part of the classroom training focuses on ways to better manager flows and mitigate runway incursions, said Delta spokesman Michael Thomas.

“We greatly emphasize the decision making process in training to prevent incursions and excursions,” Thomas said. “By way of CRM, we want to make sure that the crew is making the right decisions.”

Delta’s training department has put together graphic animations of threat and risk mitigation during ground, simulator, recurrent and qualification/transition training.

Delta’s check airmen also audit the pilot during the different phases of flight training. For years, Delta, which has a fleet of more than 700 mainline aircraft, found that the major threat of an incident was during the takeoff and climb out phases. In recent years, the airline has grown more concerned about runway incursions, particularly when the aircraft crosses an active runway.

To add another layer of safety, Delta produces its own green-colored Special Airports Pages (SAPs), which are included along with the Jeppesen aeronautical charts. The SAPS, which are updated periodically by the training department, note if there is, say, a construction project on the airport or if there is poor lightening in certain areas on the operations side.

Delta averages between six and seven Level D, the least serious, runway incursions annually. The figures are based on 10,000 flights per annum. The airline has not recorded any A, B, or C incursions or excursions in the last several years, said Thomas. The data does not include flights of Delta’s regional airline partners.

Delta has indicated interest in Honeywell’s next-generation SmartTraffic and SmartRunway situational awareness and traffic management technology and a demonstration of the Honeywell products is planned. Delta has also expressed interest in Airbus’ Runway Overrun Prevention System (ROPS).

JetBlue Airways includes runway incursion training as part of the Advanced Qualification Program (AQP), the quarterly distance-learning program, as well as during recurrent flight training and line checks. Newly hired pilots receive incursion and excursion training as part of a full course training program.

JetBlue pilots receive excursion related training on non-grooved runways, which require more room for the aircraft to stop. JetBlue operates to several locales in the Caribbean, which have non-grooved runways.

JetBlue trains E190 pilots to use the onboard performance error data system when runways are contaminated with ice and snow, said Ken Petschauer, E190 Fleet Captain. Pilots utilize an AeroData System, an ACARS based performance, and weight and balance solution that provides take-off and landing distance data for all environmental conditions. The system is part of the FAA’s ASDE-X program, which uses ground surveillance radar.

Like other carriers, JetBlue requires pilots to discuss “hot-spots” during the pre-flight briefing and before the aircraft descends to land. Pilots are also required to be heads-up at all times during taxi-out and taxi-in, and aren’t allowed to start engines while crossing runways.

The E190 has dual head-up displays (HUD), which are used “full-time,” from pushback to the runway, or on final approach. The HUD helps prevent excursions by significantly improving situational awareness, said Petschauer. The HUD displays provide the pilot with glide path, touchdown and deceleration rate.

JetBlue is collecting runway friction data on its Airbus A320 fleet, which will lead eventually to the airline acquiring new software, possibly Airbus’ own ROPS system.

Runway incursions and excursions remain a major concern for airlines, but it is evident that air carriers have been developing focused training to prevent these incidents. It is clear that the new operational technologies as well as focused training are helping to curb runway incursion and excursion incidents.



Full Stop

One of the more successful runway excursion tools to come along in recent years is the Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS-MAX), developed by Zodiac Aerospace-ESCO.

On several occasions, commercial and business aircraft were saved from extensive damage and passengers avoided serious injury when the aircraft sunk into the EMAS bed of crushable cement after overrunning the runway.

Jan. 19, 2010: EMAS saved a US Airways Express CRJ-200 Regional Jet (RJ) departing Yeager Airport in Charleston, W. Va. from plunging down a 100-foot ravine after aborting a takeoff. The aircraft ran off the runway, but sunk safely into an EMAS bed. The RJ sustained no significant damage and none of the passengers were injured.

At the time, airport officials said that the arresting system prevented a “catastrophe.” The runway overlooks a valley near Kanawha River and the city of Charleston.

EMAS is a passive aircraft arresting system, but there are common sense guidelines Zodiac Aerospace offers if the pilot determines that the aircraft will exit the runway and enter the EMAS following an aborted takeoff or landing.

Continue deceleration regardless of aircraft speed upon exiting the runway. Follow aborted takeoff procedures, or, if landing, maximize braking procedures outlined in the flight manual. Maintain runway centerline; do not veer left or right of the bed. Continuing straight ahead will maximize stopping capability of the EMAS bed. Once stopped, do not attempt to taxi or move the aircraft.

The FAA requires that commercial airports, regulated under Part 139, have a standard Runway Safety Area (RSA), where possible. The RSA is 500 feet wide and extends 1,000 feet beyond each end of the runway. Some airports, which were built before the RSA rule was adopted, cannot meet the criteria because of water, highways, surrounding population or there is a severe drop-off of terrain. At those airports, EMAS is particularly helpful.