US government monitor presses FAA to improve runway safety oversight

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

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

Statistics showed 11 incursions occurred per 1 million operations in fiscal year 2004, but this increased to 18 in 2010.

Operational errors made by air traffic controllers nearly doubled from the second quarter of fiscal year 2008 to the same period in 2011, the GAO said.

"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 the FAA's management of runway safety, the GAO said the administration 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.

"[Furthermore], 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," it added.

"As a result, [the] FAA may have difficulty assessing recent trends in safety incidents."

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