Driving on the Airport

Vehicle deviations, reports Paul Foster.


What Should Vehicle Operators Know about Surface Incidents and Runway Incursions?

A surface incident is a broad term encompassing all movement areas (including runways and taxiways) and is “any event where unauthorized or unapproved movement occurs within the movement area, or an occurrence in the movement area associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the safety of flight.”

Surface incidents may be caused by pilots and reported as pilot deviations (PD), by vehicle drivers or pedestrians and reported as vehicle/pedestrian deviations (V/PD), or by air traffic control and reported as operational errors/deviations (OE/OD). The FAA further classifies a surface incident as either a runway incursion or a non-runway incursion.

A runway incursion is “any occurrence on the airport runway environment involving an aircraft, vehicle, person, or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in a loss of required separation with an aircraft taking off, intending to take off, landing, or intending to land.”

Where Can Vehicle Operators Be Found?

The vast majority of vehicle operators can be found performing their assigned tasks in the non-movement area of the airport. Ramps have markings for aircraft parking and tie downs. Some airport ramps also have special markings for vehicle operations. If there are vehicle or roadway markings, you should always drive your vehicle within those marked areas. In addition, taxi lanes may be marked on the apron to show aircraft routes to gates and parking areas.

Inadvertent entry by vehicles onto movement and non-movement areas of an airport poses a danger to both the vehicle operator and aircraft that are attempting to land or take-off or that are maneuvering on the airport. Methods for controlling access to the airside will vary depending on the type and location of the airport.

Since January 2000, vehicle operators have been involved in approximately 1,958 surface incidents/runway incursions (See Figure 2). After analyzing the preliminary incident reports, it was found that the vehicle operators did not have any problem with communications or communicating with air traffic.

As a matter of fact, air traffic reported vehicle operators had acknowledged 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. When the completed investigation reports were analyzed, it became apparent that quite a few of the vehicle operators may have been unfamiliar with the markings and signs that were associated with ATC instructions.

Example: ATC gave instructions for the vehicle operator to hold short of a particular runway. Figure 3 shows what ATC would expect the vehicle operator to do; however, Figure 4 shows what the vehicle operator actually did. This is one example of a surface incident that could ultimately lead to a runway incursion.

The recognition and understanding of markings, especially those associated with ATC instructions, is of paramount importance to preventing incursions. Through communications the FAA hopes to determine if it was a failure on the part of the vehicle operators to recognize the airport markings that lead to the incursions or if they were preoccupied performing other tasks.

Airport operators should keep vehicular and pedestrian activity on the airside of the airport to a minimum. Vehicles on the airside of the airport should be limited to those vehicles necessary to support the operation of aircraft services, cargo and passenger services, emergency and maintenance of the airport. Vehicles should use service roads or public roads in lieu of crossing movement areas whenever possible. Where vehicular traffic on airport operation areas cannot be avoided, it should be carefully controlled.

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