How to Mitigate Runway Incursions and Train for Emergencies

Jan. 4, 2024
The courageous actions of crewmembers aboard JAL Flight JL516 allowed hundreds of passengers to safely evacuate the aircraft after colliding with another plane. The incident highlights the importance of effective runway incursion mitigation programs and emergency response plans.

Tragedy struck in Tokyo as a Japan Airlines (JAL) plane collided with a Japanese Coast Guard aircraft at Haneda Airport (HND). According to a report from Reuters, multiple people aboard the Coast Guard’s plane were killed. However, all 379 people aboard JAL’s plane survived and were successfully evacuated before the aircraft was consumed by fire.

According to a statement released by JAL, the airline is assisting with an investigation into the incident.

“The root cause of this accident is not known yet,” Tetsuo Saito, Japan’s transport minister, said according to a report by the New York Times.

While more details about what ultimately led to the disaster are uncovered, the quick action by the airline’s flight crewmembers and other emergency personnel prevented the accident from becoming deadlier.

The accident highlights the importance of being prepared for when the unthinkable happens at an airport.

For example, having an emergency response plan (ERP) in place can mitigate the extent of an accident.

“You have a much better chance of minimizing the effect of a disaster when you prepare for it ahead of time,” Todd Thomas, safety manager at Baldwin Aviation Safety and Compliance, explained in Ground Support Worldwide.

Thomas noted an ERP should be developed to fit the size of an organization and be clearly laid out. He added an effective emergency response plan should answer key questions, such as:

  • What will each person’s roles and responsibilities be?
  • Who in your organization will have ERP responsibilities?
  • When will the ERP be activated and when will participants begin their roles and responsibilities?
  • Where will the ERP be kept and where will the command center be?
  • How will each person carry out his or her roles and responsibilities?

“Think through each question and provide common sense answers. Do not put too many responsibilities on one individual. When possible, it is recommended to have a back-up for each primary person in the event of sickness or vacation,” Thomas said.

Other recommendations for developing an ERP include surveying employees to see if anyone possesses unique skills that can help during an emergency and research and compile a list of emergency contacts, among others.

“Once you have the ERP template you want to use, conduct a gap analysis for the purposes of determining what existing policies and procedures you may already have in place to go into your ERP. After the gap analysis, you will then know what other policies and procedures need developing,” Thomas advised, adding a critical component of any ERP is to plan regular exercises of it.

Thomas noted a well-constructed ERP allows organizations to be better prepared to handle an emergency when one occurs.

Beyond ERPs, many airports are utilizing runway incursion mitigation (RIM) programs.

Justin Bychek and Greg Albjerg of HNTB explained in Airport Business that airports are using RIM programs to assess airfield safety.

“RIM aims to reduce the risk severity and likelihood of an incursion to occur,” Bychek and Albjerg said.

In order to prepare for a RIM program, Bychek and Albjerg suggested:

  • Conducting an in-house assessment of potential problems.
  • Identifying incursion risk likelihood and severity.
  • Identifying mitigation options.
  • Documenting any constraints and how they impact or limit mitigation.
  • Understanding operational consequences — both positive and negative.
  • Collaborating with stakeholders including airport sponsors, flight operators and the FAA.

Bychek and Albjerg noted balancing safety improvements while maintaining efficiencies at airport can be challenging. However, there offered best practices for airports looking to navigate these challenges including:

  • Insisting on a transparent stakeholder engagement process.
  • Understanding (and expecting) stakeholder nuances.
  • Considering future operation and traffic levels.
  • Using clear, easy-to-interpret graphics.
  • Utilizing risk-based decision-making.
  • Being actively involved in the process.
  • Seeking opportunities execute projects as stand-alone objectives or as part of a master plan update.

“By following the suggested best practices and maintaining clear communication with all invested parties throughout the process, airports can reduce hot spots in their airfields and increase the safety of the U.S. aviation system,” Bychek and Albjerg said, adding there is no need to sacrifice efficiency for safety when mitigating runway incursions by using a holistic approach.

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