"Technology is not the panacea to prevent runway incursions," AOPA President Phil Boyer told the Runway Safety National Summit in Washington, D.C., June 27. "There are low- or no-cost solutions that could be implemented right now to help solve this problem."
The AOPA president criticized those who advocate expensive technology solutions without ever considering the cost-sensitive owners of some 200,000 general aviation aircraft.
The FAA called the three-day summit to discuss the growing problem of runway incursions, a problem under increasing scrutiny from the media and Congress. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, told the group he expects answers from the FAA before Congress recesses in early October.
Boyer suggested that part of the problem was that some pilots are "heads down" in the cockpit and don't know their exact position on the airport. "All pilots need to look out the window and have better situation awareness."
He noted that pilot education and information are keys to reducing runway incursions.
Boyer said that AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation have been working for more than two years to educate GA pilots about runway incursions.
ASF, working with the FAA, is now offering free, detailed airport taxi diagrams to all pilots via AOPA Online. ASF and the FAA have also teamed to print and distribute more than 100,000 copies of ASF's Safety Advisor Operations at Towered Airports. The publication is also available free to all pilots.
And AOPA has been educating pilots with magazine features on the runway incursion problem in AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training, which reach some 60 percent of the active pilots and student pilots in the United States.
Boyer is the only outside aviation representative on the FAA administrator's Runway Safety Management Team. Dennis Roberts, AOPA vice president and executive director of government and technical affairs, is the general aviation co-chair of the FAA/Industry Runway Incursion Joint Safety Implementation Team (JSIT).
ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg chaired the FAA Research, Engineering, and Development (RE&D) runway incursion subcommittee, which issued its report in January 1998.
The group's number-one recommendation: Amend FAR 91.129(i) to require a specific clearance to cross each runway. (See " Runway incursion subcommittee makes recommendations to FAA." The NTSB made a similar recommendation earlier this year.
But some in the airline and air traffic control community, concerned about increased congestion on ground control radio frequencies, have resisted that change. However, during this week's summit, many agreed such a change may now be necessary.
Boyer suggested that if the FAA did not act soon to change the rule, AOPA might start an educational campaign to have pilots voluntarily stop at all runways. "Those red-and-white runway identifier signs should be treated just like the red-and-white stop signs on the highway. When you see one, stop and ask for permission to cross the runway," he said.
Boyer also presented an ASF analysis of pilot surface deviations to define the scope of the problem. "Let's dispel the myth right now that general aviation runway incursions are a major problem leading to accidents," Boyer said.
According to the ASF data, general aviation accounts for some 68 percent of all pilot deviations on towered airport surfaces. However, general aviation aircraft account for 96 percent of the total U.S. aircraft fleet.
Moreover, almost all GA deviations occur during the day in VFR weather conditions and rarely lead to an incident or accident.
Most runway incursion accidents have happened at night or in low visibility and involve airliners or turbine-powered business aircraft flown by professional pilots.
While private pilots were responsible for 33 percent of pilot deviations, airline transport pilots accounted for more than 30 percent. Pilots with more than 10,000 hours account for 18 percent, while pilots with fewer than 300 hours were responsible for 22 percent.
And pilots are not always to blame. Some 25 percent of runway incursions in 1999 were attributed to air traffic control mistakes.
Boyer noted that there is some technology on the horizon that may help general aviation pilots avoid runway incursions and provide other benefits as well.
One solution, ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) uses highly accurate GPS information to alert pilots and controllers to the position of traffic, including aircraft on the ground. AOPA is participating in the FAA's Capstone demonstration project and will evaluate this technology using two AOPA aircraft.
"However, this technology won't be available until at least 2006," Boyer concluded. "And we must always be sensitive to the cost of new equipment for general aviation. New technology must provide enough benefits for pilots that they will voluntarily buy the new equipment."
The 360,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
June 29, 2000