Goal: Reducing Runway Incursions

Preventing runway incursions is one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s highest priorities. Not only do they have the potential to put lives at risk due to the number and proximity of aircraft operating on the airport surface, but they take place in a complex and dynamic environment.

From a safety perspective, an airport is divided into two distinct areas: the Movement Area, which is under the control of air traffic, and usually includes the runways, taxiways, and other areas of an airport that aircraft use for taxiing, takeoff, and landing; and, the Non-Movement Area, which includes taxi lanes, aprons, ramps, and other areas not under the control of air traffic. The movement of aircraft or vehicles (i.e., tugs) within the non-movement area is the responsibility of the pilot, mechanics, the vehicle operator, or airport management.

In addition to watching for moving aircraft, be careful not to get too close to a parked aircraft. Aside from nicks and dents that are expensive to repair, you could be hurt if an aircraft suddenly started its engine and you were too close. You should also be aware of the problem of jet blast or prop wash. There have been several cases where vehicles have been overturned by jet blast. If a pilot is about to start the engine(s) or the engine(s) are running, the aircraft’s beacon should be flashing. At most airports, the movement and non-movement areas are separated by a solid yellow line and a dashed yellow line (Figure 1).

It is permissible to cross from the dashed side to the solid side; however, ATC permission is always required to cross from the solid side to the dashed side at an airport with an operating control tower.

As an operator of a vehicle, get the controller’s permission before going onto a runway or taxiway, the associated safety areas, or any other part of the movement area. There are at least two ways to get permission: by radio or advanced coordination with ATC. Check the airport diagram and be sure of the location of the movement areas.

Surface Incidents, 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). 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.”

Vehicle Operators

The vast majority of vehicle operators perform their tasks in the non-movement area of the airport. Ramps have markings for aircraft parking and tiedowns. Some ramps also have special markings for vehicle operations. If there are vehicle or roadway markings, always drive the vehicle within marked areas. In addition, taxilanes 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 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 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. 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.

Recognition and understanding of markings, especially those associated with ATC instructions, is of paramount importance to preventing incursions. Through communications, FAA seeks to determine if it was a failure on the part of vehicle operators to recognize airport markings that lead to the incursions, or if operators 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 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.

Navigating the Airfield

Most towered airports have markings, signs, and lights designed to assist in navigating around an airfield.

Runways are identified by wide, white-painted edge lines and a white-painted dashed centerline. Taxiways are marked with double yellow-painted edge lines and a yellow-painted solid centerline. The yellow taxiway centerlines may lead on, off, or cross 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, on instrument runways the last 2,000 feet will have yellow edge lights. Taxiways are illuminated with blue edge lights (or reflectors) and green centerline lights (or reflectors). Vehicle operators 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.