Where can the mechanics be found?
The vast majority of mechanics can be found performing maintenance and other related tasks in the hangars. There are a few mechanics selected to work next to the terminal buildings on the ramp or apron servicing aircraft. Regardless of where the mechanics work, they rarely venture into the movement area. However, it is that rare entry into the movement area that poses a challenge for the mechanics as well as air traffic controllers and pilots. During the course of their shift, mechanics may be required to reposition an aircraft before or after maintenance. The repositioning of aircraft is usually accomplished by either taxiing or towing and may require the mechanics to enter the movement area. Between FY2001 and 2004, mechanics have been involved in approximately 163 surface incidents/runway incursions (See Figure 2). Between FY2005 and 2009, there have been 162 surface incidents/runway incursions involving mechanics (See Figure 3). After analyzing the incident reports, it was found that the mechanics did not have any problem with communications, or communicating with air traffic. As a matter of fact, air traffic reported mechanics had acknowledged the taxi/tow instructions and read the instructions back correctly; however, they still proceeded into the movement area, crossed active runways, and entered active taxiways without proper authorization or clearance.
Navigating around the airport
Most towered airports have markings, signs, and lights designed to assist you in navigating around the airfield. Runways are identified by the wide, white-painted edge lines and white-painted dashed centerline. Taxiways are marked with double yellow-painted edge lines and a yellow-painted solid centerline. Remember, the yellow taxiway centerlines may lead on, lead off a runway.
During low visibility or night operations, the runways, in addition to the white-painted markings, have white lights along the edge, centerline, and touchdown zone. However, it should be noted that on instrument runways the last 2,000 feet will have yellow edge lights. The taxiways are illuminated with blue edge lights (or reflectors) and green centerline lights (or reflectors). Mechanics need to know that when these markings, signs, and lights are missed or ignored, the opportunity for errors increases. Guidance on how to operate safely in the airport environment is critical.
What can be done?
The Office of Runway Safety & Operational Services offers the following recommendations:
The FAA Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools, in addition to teaching their students how to taxi aircraft, should teach airfield markings, signs, and lights and basic airport layout. The aviation maintenance technician school is responsible for teaching mechanics to inspect, repair, and maintain today's technologically advanced aircraft. According to the curriculum, maintenance technicians are provided instructions in ground operations including taxiing and towing aircraft. It is during these instructions that safe surface operations should be introduced.
The employing aviation company, in addition to reinforcing basic airfield markings, signs, and lights, should invest some time in conducting advance airport layout training or ensure that their mechanics attend equivalent training that may be conducted by airport operations. This course would be specific to the airport where they operate.
Dr. Paul M. Foster is the FAA Safety Team Inspection Authorization Refresher Course Coordinator (IA RCC). He is also an adjunct professor with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in aviation safety, management, and aircraft maintenance. He holds an EdD in Organizational Leadership, EdS in General Education Administration, Masters of Art in Management, and Bachelor of Professional Aeronautics from Pepperdine University, Troy State University in Montgomery, Webster University, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, respectively.
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