Sometimes simple is good. Sometimes part of the solution may already be there, flying aboard general aviation aircraft. That certainly may be the case with the gnawing problem of runway incursions.
The NTSB conducted a "Runway Incursion Forum" on March 27, the 30-year anniversary of the world's worst aviation accident, the collision between two Boeing 747s on a foggy runway in Tenerife, Canary Islands. AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg was one of the featured panelists for the daylong forum in Washington, D.C.
"Distraction remains enemy No. 1," said Landsberg, "and multi-tasking makes you stupid. When the aircraft is moving on the ground, 100 percent of our attention needs to be focused on where we are and where we're going."
The national system is averaging about 330 runway incursions a year, although only 10 percent of those were serious enough that they could have led to an accident.
But as Landsberg pointed out, GA already has some solutions that could be adapted to all segments of aviation.
Improving a pilot's runway and taxiway situational awareness is a key to reducing incursions, most experts agree.
GA pilots have been using moving-map taxiway displays that provide that awareness for at least five years now, on everything from small hand-held GPS units to panel-mounted multifunction displays.
And that's because AOPA had challenged the FAA in 2002 when it wanted to require certification of any "computing devices" used in the cockpit. AOPA obtained a certification exemption for such devices used in non-turbine powered aircraft operating under Part 91 rules.
Five years later, the FAA has finally decided that portable devices that can display "own ship position" on a taxiway/runway chart would be a good thing for airline pilots as well.
Just days before the NTSB forum, the FAA announced that it would issue revised certification standards for Class B Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs), tablet computer-like portable displays that draw data and power from aircraft systems. The agency thinks that by cutting certification costs, it's more likely the units will find their way into airliner cockpits.
Another technology with GA roots is FAROS (Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal), a system that flashes the visual approach path lights (PAPI or VASI) when an aircraft is on the runway. The concept came from an FAA research and development advisory subcommittee chaired in 1998 by Landsberg and is now being demonstrated on Runway 30 at Long Beach/Daugherty Field in California.
That same committee made the recommendation in 1998 that the FAA change FAR 91.129(i) (which says that a taxi clearance to an assigned runway is also clearance to cross intersecting runways on the taxi route) to require a specific clearance to cross any runway. The FAA is now considering that change.
Landsberg also pointed out to the NTSB forum that the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, working with the FAA's Runway Safety Office, has created a highly successful online "Runway Safety" program for GA. The foundation later adapted the program for the Airline Pilots Association for training air carrier pilots on preventing runway incursions.
And in December, the Air Safety Foundation mailed a version of the runway safety training program on CD to more than 200,000 pilots - for free.
"We're doing something about runway safety," said Landsberg, "but we can never afford to become complacent."
March 29, 2007