US government monitor presses FAA to improve runway safety oversight

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Highlighting an upward trend in runway incursions, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes the Federal Aviation Administration needs to bolster and expand its oversight of runway incidents.

While FAA has met certain interim goals established in 2007, "the overall rate of incursions at towered airports has trended steadily upward", said GAO.

In fiscal 2004 11 incursions occurred per million operations, and increased to 18 in 2010. Operational errors made by air traffic controllers nearly doubled from the second quarter of fiscal 2008 to same period in 2011, GAO stated.

"Recent increases in reported runway incursions and airborne operational errors can be somewhat attributed to several changes in reporting policies and procedures at FAA," explained GAO. "However, trends may also indicate an increase in the actual occurrence of incidents."

Highlighting weaknesses in FAA's management of runway safety GAO said FAA lacks data collection processes, risk-based metrics and assessment frameworks for analysing incidents including runway overruns, incidents in ramp areas and a wider range of airborne errors.

"Further, changes to reporting processes and procedures make it difficult to access safety trends, and existing data may not be readily available to decision makers, including those at the regional and local levels," GAO concluded.

"As a result, FAA may have difficulty assessing recent trends in safety incidents," GAO explained in its assessment.

Recommendations made to FAA by GAO include FAA extending its oversight to include runway overruns and ramp areas, developing risk-based measures for safety incidents and improving information sharing about incidents.