Action fails to stem runway incursions

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No improvement over past five years, say US inspectors

The numbers of runway incursions in the USA have failed to fall over the past five years despite action by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a new report by Department of Transportation watchdog the Inspector General's Office (IGO).

Incident numbers had been climbing since 1998 and they peaked in 2001, says the IGO, but following the drop in runway incursions in financial year 2002, the number and rate of runway incursions have remained much the same, with some particularly dangerous events continuing to occur at four major international airports.

The agency says that in FY2005 and 2006, Boston Logan airport suffered 22 runway incursion incidents (one severe), Chicago O'Hare 15 incidents (five severe), Los Angeles International 16 (two severe) and Philadelphia 16 (one severe). But according to the IGO, the specific local remedial actions that have now been carried out by these airports were not adopted until after a serious runway incursions had occurred.

At Boston Logan, says the report, action was not taken until after a 9 June 2005 incident in which two aircraft came within 52m (171ft) of a high-speed collision. The main problem at Logan was pilot deviations from procedure, and as a result the airport has since installed new lighting and runway markings and the FAA has revised its traffic procedures there.

In Philadelphia, where controller errors were identified as a particular problem, the FAA appointed a new traffic manager and more supervisors and operational managers, says the report. One of the additional operational positions was a supervisor responsible for reducing runway crossings, and for coordinating them when they do take place.

At all these four airports, the IGO recommends increasing information sharing among air carriers, pilots and airport personnel to identify the root causes of pilot deviation focusing attention on human factors and improved training and finally greater national authority and accountability.

Meanwhile, in 2006, a fatal accident occurred as a result of pilots misidentifying the runway from which they had been cleared to take off, and an incident in which a Continental Airlines Boeing 757 landed mistakenly on a taxiway. The fatal accident took place in August 2006 at Lexington, Kentucky when a Comair Bombardier CRJ100 crew attempted, in the pre-dawn darkness, to take off from the short general aviation runway - even though it was unlit - and overran its end at high speed.

Neither of these events meets the present FAA definition of a runway incursion so they are not included in the statistics, although the Lexington accident would be classified as such under International Civil Aviation Organisation standards. The FAA plans to adopt the ICAO definition next year.