Zero Incursions: Training, cooperation make their mark on DFW’ runway safety program

Oct. 8, 2002

Training, cooperation make their mark on DFW’s runway safety program

On August 16, 2002, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport reached a significant milestone – one year free of runway incursions. Jim Crites, executive vice president of operations at DFW, explains that this accomplishment was achieved through training, education, communication, and the cooperation of all groups active on the airfield.

Last year, in an effort to make the runway a safer area in which to work, Crites’ operations staff developed what they call quarterly runway safety action team meetings. These team meetings involve airline pilots, FAA, people who taxi aircraft, and people who drive vehicles on the airfield. As the name implies, the group met quarterly to address issues and concerns for airfield safety and to develop solutions to problems.

Crites relates that many ideas came out of these meetings, including suggestions for improving procedures and signage, recommending different vehicle operating procedures, and enhanced training.


One of the training programs that was developed is the Aircraft Mechanic Taxi Program, designed especially for mechanics who taxi aircraft around an airport. The mechanics were provided with situational awareness training, taxiing instructions specific to DFW, and education on all the activities that occur on the airfield to make them more effective and safer operators. Crites explains that this is especially important for those new to DFW. "What we’re doing is giving a better situational awareness before they take that big aircraft out there and try to cross two runways to get to a hangar."

According to Crites, 150 technicians from Delta Airlines and 850 technicians from American Airlines participated in the training. "It’s people who create runway incursions, and it’s people who are going to prevent runway incursions."

Crites explains that initially when a vehicle operator is granted a license to taxi or drive on the airfield, he or she receives the training once, and then learns from experience. "What we’ve gone to now is annual recurrent training for all the vehicle operators to provide them with the latest that has happened over the past year, in terms of incidents, new procedures, and better situational awareness.

"The best way to prevent a runway incursion is through proper education and training of the people."


Another key to safety on the airfield is signage and knowledge of areas which may be of potential concern. To address this need, a "hot spot" map of the airfield was developed and distributed to those active in the area. The map highlights the sensitive areas of the airfield and details an incursion that happened in the past. Through studying this map, pilots, controllers, and others are able to develop a much keener sense of what could happen and how to deal with those situations.

Jim Crites, executive VP of operations, DFW

DFW has also taken on a perpetual Part 139 compliance program. "We view safety as a 24 hours a day, seven days a week operation, and that means we want everything to be perfect, from a visual guidance standpoint, on our airfield. Our airport is here primarily for flight safety," Crites states. Therefore, immediate attention is given to eroding paint, damaged signage, and other discrepancies that might occur.

DFW has dedicated aircraft fire and rescue roads, which circle the runways and active taxiways. Any new drivers unfamiliar with the airfield are required to have an escort. "We’re providing a customer service to get them where they are going as fast as we can, but we also preserve safety in not taking the chance with making a mistake," saus Crites.


Another project that will be completed in February 2003 at DFW is a Surface Movement Guidance Control System. Crites explains that this "provides increased situational awareness to those who are operating on the airfield during low visibility conditions."

In January, DFW plans to simulate one of the ideas that grew out of these quarterly meetings at NASA Ames Research Center's FutureFlight Central. The idea calls for construction of a perimeter taxiway, removing the necessity for aircraft to taxi across active runways. "So now, the best way to avoid a runway incursion is [to] not make an airplane go across a runway," Crites says. "Our air carriers are very supportive of this."

Crites expects a perimeter taxiway to:

• reduce runway crossing delays and runway incursion potential,

• reduce air traffic controller and pilot workload,

• increase aircraft departure efficiency rates, and

• improve overall taxi-in time due to elimination of a runway crossing delay and communications coordination for taxiing.

Says Crites, "When aircraft arrive on the runway, they have to wait for a controller to set up the instructions to cross another runway. Then the departing aircraft has to be informed that there is going to be a runway crossing. And, if there’s an arrival runway, you have to set all these pilots up for the guy that’s departing for the guy who’s going to be crossing, and for the guy who’s going to be arriving next on that runway. That’s a heck of a lot of verbal communication.

"In-trail separation has to be extended to give time for everybody to communicate that they understand ... what’s going to take place, then they all have to comply with actually doing it and communicate when they are done."

As an example, Crites says that at DFW during a peak period, there could be 45 operations to a runway in an hour, but there are 107 aircraft runway crossings in that same period. "The primary purpose of that runway is arrivals and departures. But over twice the number of things they had to coordinate were simply people trying to get across the runway. So it’s very distracting to them … [Perimeter taxiways] make everybody’s work easier and free them up to provide more attention to what that runway is really designed to do."

Through a computer simulation, Crites’ team found that it would be faster for aircraft and vehicles to go around the end of the runway than it was to wait and go through the tedious process he describes. Perimeter taxiways are also expected to: reduce communication workload by some 40 percent; reduce average total delay reduction per aircraft operation by 1.5 minutes; and have the potential to increase aircraft operations efficiency by up to 70,000 aircraft operations per year without Land and Hold Short Operations procedures in effect.


In November 2000, DFW was the demonstration site for NASA’s Synthetic Vision Systems Team. One of the situational awareness tools for pilots and controllers utilized is designed to positively alert a vehicle, pilot, or air traffic controller to potential runway incursions. "If a vehicle was occupying a runway and an aircraft was about ready to depart or land, it would be able to, through sensor technology, alert anyone who would be associated with what’s about to take place," Crites explains.

The main support of this system is called multi-lateration, which is currently being tested at DFW. According to Crites, the aircraft has a transponder on it which will intercept signals from this system and be able to display for either a pilot in a cockpit, the air traffic controller, or someone just simply monitoring ground traffic, and tell exactly who is where in relation to everyone else.

"We are actually taking the ADCX, which is the advanced surface radar system, and working with the FAA to have an advisory system in place by May 2005, which will give total coverage or situational awareness to controllers on a screen in their tower. NASA took that exact type of technology and put an alarm mechanism on it. This gives people enough fair warning of what is going to happen so they can easily understand that they are part of the problem, and then gives them actual guidance on how to correct the problem.

"We’re looking to the future to facilitate the pilots, controllers, and anybody who operates vehicles on the airfield, to make it even easier for them to succeed like they did this past year."