FAA Challenged to Prove Runway Incursion Plans Work

Current plans essentially skip over GA airports.

laguardia runways
Hot spots like these at LaGuardia are designed to call pilot's attention to the most critical intersections where incursions might occur.FAA

The Inspector General’s office of the DOT recently audited the FAA’s efforts to reduce runway incursions following a 2015 agency effort to improve safety. The inspector general’s office traditionally functions as the common sense review arm for projects within the DOT. The IG learned that overall, the FAA has experienced a nearly 83 percent increase in total runway incursions between fiscal years 2011 and 2017. In two of those incidents, aircraft missed each other by just a few feet.

Following an FAA Call to Action in November 2015, the agency published 22 initiatives designed to improve runway safety. By November of last year, the FAA had completed 10 of the 22, including educating pilots on signs, markings, and other visual aids at high-risk airports and updating a best practices list for airport surface and movement areas. The IG says 10 initiatives are still in progress while two others were canceled.

The IG worries about the outstanding initiatives however, due to the dedication of funding to complete four and the need to fully implement new technologies for seven initiatives, something the IG believes could take years to complete. Finally, FAA’s plan to monitor their efforts doesn’t tie these safety initiatives to quantifiable goals that can confirm any of the efforts are actually working.

One example calls for implementing corrective recommendations to mitigate fatigue among controllers and pilots. To complete the work, the FAA needed to collect human factors data and perform studies to determine the extent that human factors and fatigue actually impact runway safety. According to FAA’s Runway Safety manager, while the agency has collected relevant data, it never dedicated any money to complete the related studies.

In another, the FAA tasked the MITRE Corporation with reviewing 1,782 records from agency’s Runway Safety Database for fiscal years 2010 through 2015, data the agency used to guide the Call to Action discussions and formation of the workgroups. However, these data were limited to the Core 30 airports (large hubs) that employ sophisticated Airport Surface Detection Equipment – Model X (ASDE-X) and Airport Surface Surveillance Capability (ASSC) systems. A glaring hole in the agency’s logic appeared when the IG learned that MITRE was not tasked with analyzing similar data from smaller, non-Core 30 general aviation airports. Some 75 percent of the total runway incursions between fiscal years 2011 through 2015 occurred at non-Core 30 airports.

The IG made three recommendations to the FAA, all of which the agency accepted. The first, update the target delivery dates for initiatives and continue updating those dates and descriptions of initiatives as changes are made. Then, develop and include in the monitoring plan quantifiable metrics that can measure the effectiveness of the initiatives and finally, consolidate duplicate initiatives within the monitoring plan.

One can only hope that the effort to develop measurable outcomes will include a demand to include data from runway incursions at GA airports too.