Simple solutions and pilot education are the keys to reducing the number of runway incursions, AOPA President Phil Boyer told Congress June 26. He also debunked the popular misconception that general aviation aircraft are involved in a disproportionate number of runway incursions. [See also AOPA President Phil Boyer's written testimony.]
"Technology is not the total solution to this problem," Boyer told the House aviation subcommittee. "Our effort over the past four years has been to focus on the immediate opportunities to prevent collisions."
Boyer said that properly painted runway and taxiway lines, improved reflective paint that would be more visible at night and in the rain, improved signage, and pilot education will go a long way toward reducing general aviation runway incursions.
"The best analogy is signs, painted lines, and traffic lights on the roads," Boyer said. "If these traffic controls are inadequate, confusing, or poorly visible, many near-misses and a few accidents may result."
As an example, Boyer noted that Charleston (South Carolina) International Airport has some non-standard signage. Representative John Baldacci (D-Maine) agreed that better signage is needed.
Boyer told the subcommittee that runway incursions are a universal problem, not limited to just general aviation.
"The number of incursion for each type of aircraft operation was in proportion to their representation in the National Airspace System," Boyer said, citing the FAA's recent "Runway Safety Report." Some 60 percent of runway incursions involve GA aircraft, but GA aircraft represent 60 percent of aircraft operations. Commercial operations (airlines and charter flights) represent 38 percent of operations and 38 percent of runway incursions.
Boyer emphasized that the majority of GA runway incursions are minor infractions where there is little or no chance of a collision actually occurring. (The FAA's recent study created a new runway incursion classification system. Category A and B incursions have a significant potential for collisions, C and D incursions pose little risk of collision. More than 80 percent of GA incursions are category C or D.)
Boyer also said that incursions are not tied to pilot experience or total time. While the FAA told Congress it didn't track that data, Boyer said that the Air Safety Foundation did. He then presented charts to show that an airline transport-rated (ATP) pilot is just as likely to cause an incursion as a private pilot. There have been almost as many incursions from pilots with over 10,000 hours as those with less than 300 hours flying time.
"General aviation incursions occur during daytime in visual flight conditions and are not a significant danger," Boyer testified. "AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation have implemented a number of initiatives to address GA runway incursions."
During the past four years, AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazines, with a combined circulation of more than 460,000, have published articles and tips on avoiding runway incursions, Boyer told Congress.
The Air Safety Foundation has published free Safety Advisor booklets on operations at towered and nontowered airports and collision avoidance.
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 ground operations," Boyer said. "A pilot must review detailed airport diagrams before taxiing or landing, particularly at unfamiliar airports."
Noting that the typical VFR pilot doesn't have access to inexpensive taxi diagrams, Boyer reminded Congress that the Air Safety Foundation, working with the FAA's Runway Safety Program Office, is now providing free diagrams for the 330 busiest towered airports to all pilots on AOPA's Web site.
"But we're not stopping there, Mr. Chairman," Boyer testified. "In order to ensure pilots know how to use those airport diagrams, ASF has also launched the interactive Runway Safety program on our Web site. The course trains and educates pilots on incursion avoidance. More than 5,000 pilots have completed the course."
ASF and the FAA have also developed a videotape emphasizing safe operations at towered airports.
Boyer told Congress that the regulations should be changed. Current rules allow controllers to issue taxi instructions without specific crossing instructions for each runway. "Clearances from controllers should not be implied," Boyer said. "Like the universal red stop sign for automobiles, pilots should consider the red and white runway signs the aviation equivalent of a stop sign and request clearance at all runways before crossing."
The AOPA president also noted that new technology may have future application but cautioned that technology brings its own set of problems.
"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,'" Boyer said.
Representative Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), a pilot himself, agreed, saying, "It seems to me expensive equipment will only pay dividends when there are poor visual flight conditions.... It all comes back to basic training and education."
But Boyer did say that affordable technology could play a role in helping to solve the problem.
Along with the FAA and the Cargo Airline Association, AOPA is involved in the Safe Flight 21 research and development project, testing in-cockpit, multifunction displays of weather, terrain, and traffic.
"This is an exciting technology that will increase safety, but it's a technology that will not be needed by every pilot, nor is it immediately available for implementation," Boyer said.
Boyer concluded his testimony saying, "We take the issue of runway incursion very seriously. Safety and education are at the heart of AOPA's mission. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure our runways safe for all pilots and the traveling public."
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Some 58 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.