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NATCA Position Statement: Runway Incursions - (7/27/2000)

Randy Schwitz, Executive Vice President

WASHINGTON — Runway incursions are becoming more frequent as the number of scheduled arrivals and departures increase. Safety — whether on the ground or in flight — is of paramount concern to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The Federal Aviation Administration defines a runway incursion as, "Any occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in loss of separation with an aircraft taking off, intending to take off, landing or intending to land"

While, a small number of runway incursions results in a "close call," the majority involves minor incidents. Some routine examples include a plane rolling over designated stop lines or a baggage trolley driving on an unauthorized part of a taxiway.

Particularly during peak travel times, controllers navigate aircraft through the maze of runways and in between a constant flow of traffic. Because space on the ground is finite and many variables enter into the mix, there is no magic bullet solution. Pilots, airport crews and controllers must work in concert to reduce the overall number and severity of these incidents.

In 1999, runway incursions attributable to controller error were down by 15 percent and this year’s numbers are comparable to those figures. Out of a total 321 incursions, 78 were due to air traffic control error.

As the union representative of civilian Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration and private controllers, FAA engineers, architects, traffic management coordinators, logistics, budget, accounting professionals as well as other specialists, NATCA is involved in a newly formed group to address the problem of runway incursions. Though the total number of incidents in 1999 was down slightly, NATCA will continue to seek innovative ways to enhance safety on our nation’s runways.

One of the ways we are accomplishing this is by working closely with the FAA’s Runway Incursion Reduction Program, which is taking a comprehensive look at the problem. Controllers are also working to implement procedural changes that could also eliminate some incursions. For example, increased training, pilot education, better runway markings and reducing frequency congestion by eliminating redundancy in controller/pilot communications are the next logical steps in this battle.

Although the National Transportation Safety Board participates in the ongoing discussions of investigations involving incursions, it recently jumped the gun by making recommendations that do not affect the crux of the problem. It offers a disproportional focus on ATC and ignores the 75 percent of incursions not caused by controllers, showing NTSB’s true aim is not to help combat the problem.

Some of the NTSB’s recommendations could have a significant, negative impact on the system. It did not serve the industry well by parting from the comprehensive analysis currently underway. Certainly, by proclaiming its own opinions at such an early stage, the NTSB has jeopardized all claims to objectivity when investigating runway incursions.

NATCA, along with many other industry groups, is working to solve the problem. We do not anticipate the NTSB’s ill thought out, superficial laundry list aimed at a limited segment of the air traffic system will hold up, once the members of the Runway Incursion Reduction Program complete their work. Instead, an effective solution must target all major contributors to incursions.

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