Data is a wonderful tool, and until the digital age got into full swing it was not used to anything like the extent it is now. It has the power to provide understanding of an issue or problem, and to illuminate the options for improvement.
Gathering data often provides surprises. Recent studies aimed at identifying the reasons for runway incursion so as to develop plans to reduce or eliminate them ended up highlighting the fact that incursion was not the only - or even the main - runway safety issue. Pilots have always known this, but it is possible - even normal - to know things and take them for granted. Like runway overruns or excursions, for example. They happen often, in fact, and they always have done. But when you assemble the data and can see precisely how frequently they happen it has a strange effect. It makes people realise that things really shouldn't be like this, and persuades them to start looking for solutions.
When the Flight Safety Foundation's director of technical programmes Jim Burin, working with safety studies and statistics from numerous sources, began to combine the assembled data on runway safety in general, he was able not only to calculate the frequency and risk associated with runway incursions and excursions, but to identify - and name - a much rarer runway risk, but one that has produced killer accidents since 2000. It is "runway confusion": the unintentional use of the wrong runway, or a taxiway, for landing or take-off. Just as revealing the frequency of events tends to concentrate the mind, so does breaking down a generic issue like runway safety to identify specific event types. Operationally, the clarification that this process brings can improve pilot awareness, and lead airlines to modify training and standard operating procedures.
Burin summed up one issue with characteristic accuracy: "Not every unstablised approach ends up as a runway excursion but almost every runway excursion starts as an unstable approach." Some other things have been taken for granted for far too long. Aircraft manufacturers have not been required, during the certification phase, to test for and provide performance figures for take-offs and landings on contaminated runways. There is no requirement on airports to crown and groove runway surfaces, even in areas where rainfall is often heavy. There is no requirement to train pilots to manage aircraft on contaminated runways. It's quite weird to discover that these glaring gaps in safety management exist in such a sophisticated industry.