By David Learmount in London

Increase reflects improved safety culture rather than more runway events, says agency

There was an increase in the number of reported runway incursions in 2005, according to Eurocontrol. Last year there were 611 compared with 550 in 2004, reveals the head of the agency's airports unit Paul Wilson.

Europe sees slightly fewer than two runway incursions a day on average, says Wilson, but it is believed the rise in reported incidents is the result of an improved reporting culture rather than a rise in real events. He adds that the results of Eurocontrol's runway safety action plan are beginning to show in fewer high-risk incursions.

Runway safety was the first aspect of airport safety to be addressed by Eurocontrol in a programme that was accelerated after a fatal collision in October 2001 at Milan Linate. The agency says getting people to report was a problem initially because no reporting culture existed. In addition, the legal system in most European countries assumes criminal fault in frontline operatives like pilots or controllers until the system proves otherwise. That was true of the Linate accident, and Eurocontrol's project manager for runway safety Yvonne Page says that although Italian airports have been working hard to set up the safety management systems that will reduce the risk of a similar accident in future, nothing has been done to change the Italian legal system's approach to individual prosecution.

Although runway incursion reporting is much improved, says Page, it would be better if the fear of prosecution for unintentional mistakes were removed. The European Commission has created a mandate for compulsory incident reporting, says Wilson. This signifies the consent of all the European Union states, but in many cases their legal systems render any such system relatively ineffective.

Despite this, says Wilson, Euro­control is pushing to educate those who report incidents to improve the quality of their reporting.

Source: Flight International