Statement of Phil Boyer
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable John L. Mica, Chairman
The Honorable William O. Lipinski, Ranking Member
Runway Incursions, Focusing on the Technology to Prevent Collisions
June 26, 2001
Good afternoon, my name is Phil Boyer, and I am president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. AOPA enjoys the financial support of over 371,000 dues-paying members. Our objective as an association is to promote the interests of those who contribute to our economy by taking advantage of general aviation aircraft to fulfill their business and personal transportation needs. More than half of all pilots in the United States are members of AOPA, making it the world's largest pilot organization. Our sister organization, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's (ASF's) mission is to bring safety education to all general aviation pilots, not just AOPA members. Their motto is Safe Pilots; Safe Skies. One of the foundation's most significant programs features over 200 safety seminars a year, reaching 32,500 pilots. These seminars are held in partnership with the FAA.
The FAA has just released a Runway Safety Report looking at the number and severity of incursions at towered airports between 1997 and 2000. Runway incursions are an issue in which AOPA has great concern, as 60 percent of all incursions involve general aviation aircraft. However, as we look behind those numbers, we see incursions involving general aviation aircraft are generally of a less serious nature. The subject of this hearing is focusing on technology to prevent runway collisions. I would submit to the subcommittee that technology is not the panacea or total solution to this problem. Our effort over the past four years has been to focus on the immediate opportunities to prevent collisions. We believe a great deal can be accomplished in addressing general aviation incursions without depending totally on multi-million-dollar procurements that will take years to accomplish. Improving the quality of the paint used at airports, ensuring that airports are adequately painted, and improving signage in combination with education will go a long way toward reducing general aviation runway incursions. Since we last reported to the subcommittee on this issue in 1997, a number of initiatives are now under way that I am confident will result in a reduction in our incursions.
As members of the subcommittee may know, AOPA has co-chaired an important initiative under the FAA's Safer Skies Program to review the causes of runway incursions and develop an implementation plan based on this data to reduce incursions in the future. Prior to that the executive director of our Air Safety Foundation chaired a RE&D Advisory Committee that in January 1998 produced 12 incursion reduction initiatives. In addition, I personally serve as the only outside participant in Administrator Garvey's management team on runway safety—a periodically scheduled meeting between the administrator and all of her top-level managers.
The causes of runway incursions
The numbers alone do not tell the whole story of runway incursions. To understand what is behind these figures, and to understand how the aviation community is dealing with the issue, we must look at the causes of runway incursions.
First, I mentioned the latest FAA study that showed the majority of incursions, 60 percent, involve general aviation aircraft. However, the study also noted that figure is proportional with general aviation's percentage of aircraft operations. In fact, according to FAA, the number of incursions for each type of aircraft operation was in proportion to their representation in the NAS. Previous studies indicate that incursions are also not tied to certificate type. For example, an airline transport-rated pilot is just as likely to cause an incursion as a private pilot. Incursions also do not appear related to time in cockpit, as almost as many incursions occur to pilots with over 10,000 hours of flying time as those with under 300 hours of flying time. Most incursions, 63 percent, occur under visual flight conditions. Finally and most importantly, according to the FAA, runway incursions most commonly involve two general aviation aircraft and are predominately minor in relative severity. Using an A through D scale with A representing incursions at high speed requiring radical evasive action, general aviation incidents were overwhelmingly C and D category incursions, where by definition there is little or no chance of collision with ample time and distance to avoid a potential collision.
So the picture that emerges is that general aviation incursions occur during daytime, visual flight conditions and are not a significant danger. As we will outline later, we are implementing a number of initiatives to address these.
Virtually all runway incursions are unintentional. The most common error by pilots that leads to runway incursions is entering a runway without clearance, meaning the pilot moves into a takeoff position prematurely or crosses a runway without clearance. The cause of these unintentional errors that lead to runway incursions by both general aviation and air carriers is the pilot not knowing where he/she is on the runway or taxiway. Situational awareness is key to solving this problem. Therefore, to address these incidents, one must first educate the pilot. With that so stated, inadequate, confusing, or poorly visible signs or markers and poor communication with air traffic controllers can exacerbate the situation. The best analogy is signs, painted lines, and traffic lights on the roads. If these traffic controls are inadequate, confusing, or poorly visible, many near misses and a few accidents may result.
Education is critical
Education is the key to reaching pilots, and that's the course we have followed at AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation for the past four years.
Our monthly magazines, AOPA Pilot, with a circulation of 371,000, and Flight Training, with a circulation of 90,000, include articles and tips on avoiding runway incursions. The Air Safety Foundation has also developed special Safety Advisor booklets on pilot operations at towered airports, operations at nontowered airports, single-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR), and collision avoidance. These publications stress that the key to safe operations is awareness, preflight planning, focus, and organization.
Our publications point out to pilots the risk of causing a runway incursion can be greatly reduced by good preflight planning. Pilots are trained to carefully plan the enroute portion of their flight, but we are now pointing out the importance of that same careful planning for arrival and departure ground operations. Specifically, a pilot must review detailed airport diagrams before taxiing or landing—particularly at unfamiliar airports. Being aware of airport markings such as taxiways, holding positions and runway boundaries is critical. Basic preflight planning includes nonstandard procedures, obstacle clearance, taxi routes, traffic patterns, and communication requirements.
A typical VFR pilot uses government enroute charts, but without an expensive subscription the pilot does not have access to airport taxi and runway diagrams. I am pleased to report that AOPA's Air Safety Foundation, in conjunction with the FAA Runway Safety Program Office, now provides airport taxi diagrams, updated regularly on AOPA Online for the 330 busiest towered airports in the country. This is available to all pilots, not just AOPA members.
But we're not stopping there, Mr. Chairman. In order to ensure pilots know how to use those airport diagrams, I am also pleased to report the ASF has launched an interactive Runway Safety program. Also available on our Web site to all pilots, it's the first Web-based refresher course that has been certified by the FAA as part of their Wings pilot proficiency award program. It is an interactive course that trains and educates pilots on incursion avoidance and includes a runway safety quiz that tests the pilot's knowledge of airport markings and prepares pilots for possible arrival and departure scenarios. To date, over 21,000 have visited the site, and 5,000 pilots have completed the course.
In addition, a videotape emphasizing safe operation at towered airports was jointly developed by the FAA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. It is available to pilots, flight schools, and safety counselors.
Finally, the Air Safety Foundation has created a set of instructional flash cards designed to test and reinforce runway signage and procedures information. These cards will be distributed in our publications, on the Web, and Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics.
Clarification of regulations
Beyond education, Mr. Chairman, we believe the ATC operating procedure described in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 91.129(i), "Takeoff, Landing, Taxi Clearance," needs to be reexamined. This requirement implies clearance for aircraft to cross runways, but controllers do not issue an explicit crossing instruction for each runway after the previous runway has been crossed. It seems appropriate that this change. Clearances from controllers should not be implied. Like the universal red stop sign for automobiles, pilots should consider red runway signs the aviation equivalent and voluntarily stop and request clearance at all runways before crossing.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, let's consider the possibilities of technology. Laying aside the issue of mandatory equipage and costs, the fact is anytime a new box goes into a general aviation aircraft, it also creates another excuse for a pilot to be looking in the cockpit rather than out the window "seeing and avoiding."
One research and development project that AOPA is specifically involved in, along with the Cargo Airline Association and the FAA, is the Safe Flight 21 program (SF21). This program is being used by the FAA, industry, and users to evaluate advanced aviation technology. The program tests in-cockpit, multifunction displays of weather, terrain, and traffic, a display greatly improving situational awareness and safety. Our home airport at Frederick, Maryland, is a SF21 test site, and we are excited by the possibilities of this technology.
Without traveling to Alaska, we were able to demonstrate this technology to the new head of the FAA's Runway Safety Program and his deputy just last month at our Frederick, Maryland, headquarters. One can literally see real-time weather and traffic, and for the purposes of runway incursion, we see in the cockpit an airport diagram with our position to within one wingspan. It's exciting technology that will increase safety—but it's technology that will not be needed by every pilot, nor is it immediately available for implementation. The House Appropriations Committee has recently increased funding of this program above the administration request, and we commend them for doing so.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to present our views. Let me assure all members of the subcommittee that we take the issue of runway incursions very seriously. Safety and education are at the heart of AOPA's mission, and we look forward to working with you to ensure our runways are safe for all pilots and the traveling public.