Runway Incursion: When Planes and Paths Cross the Wrong Way

According to statistics (Barnett, 2020 click ), air travel is one of the safest way of transportation. On the other hand, all phases of a flight are critical and has its own risks. Incidents cause of meteorological events, runway excursions, runway incursions, air miss situations (loss off separation minimum) and etc. List of incidents goes more and more. Therefore, the first rule of aviation was built as “Safety First”. In this article we are going to cover runway incursions. What is a runway incursion? Some examples of serious runway incursion incidents and what can be done for prevention.

Firstly, runway incursion is an incident of the unauthorized presence of an aircraft, person or vehicle on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft. For example, if there is an unauthorized follow me car on the runway while an aircraft is using the same runway that is a runway incursion. Or if the landed traffic is not vacated the runway while another aircraft is on departure, that is another runway incursion. We can easily enhance examples.

Runway incursion scenarios

Runway incursions are generally a result of some mistakes of the responsible professionals like pilots, air traffic controllers and ground staff. Sometimes technical issues may cause or prepare the ground for incursions. Let’s look at some of incursion disasters.

Tenerife Disaster (27 March 1977)

 KLM Flight4805 and Pan Am Flight1736 collided on runway at Tenerife North Airport (formerly was Los Rodeos Airport) and 583 people killed. It is still the deadliest accident in aviation history (hope to remain like that). The disaster was because of a runway incursion in brief and the result was terrible (You can find the documentary of Tenerife disaster there Click).

Tenerife Disaster (27 March 1977), Runway Incursion: When Planes and Paths Cross the Wrong Way
Tenerife disaster (Pan AM – KLM)

 Omsk / RUSSSIA (11 October 1984)

While landing Aeroflot Flight3352 collided with maintenance vehicles which were on the runway. 178 people were death (4 ground workers and 174 people on board) on this collision and this is the deadliest aviation accident in Russian territory.

Logan Int. Airport / Boston (09 June 2005)

US Airways Flight 1170 and Aer Lingus Flight 132 was nearly collided after both flights were given nearly same clearances at the same time for takeoff from intersecting runways. The US Airways flight kept its nose down on the runway for an extended amount of time to go underneath the Aer Lingus flight and avoided a collision.

As you see there can be various results in case of a runway incursion and it can become the deadliest incident in aviation history.  

Now, let’s briefly look at what can we do to prevent incursions.

Firstly, all professionals must pay attention and focus while on duty. Pilots, controllers and ground staff must always stay focused and alert. Rules like read back in R/T communication or checklist control must be obeyed strictly. Always keep in mind that all rules have at least one purpose that serves safety in aviation.

Moreover, staying focus and alert is a lot related with physical and mental condition of the worker which affects the performance. So fatigue is a vital subject for safety, keeping mental and physical health is a must for aviation workers. On that point executives must be aware of that subject and implement related applications on the working environment (For more reading about fatigue in aviation click.

  • Clear signage and markings on runways and taxiways guide pilots and ground crew.
  • Regular training ensures pilots, controllers, and crew understand proper procedures.
  • Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE) tracks ground movement for air traffic control.
  • Runway incursion mitigation (RIM) programs identify and address runway incursion risks.
  • Physical barriers like fences can prevent unauthorized runway access.
  • Crew resource management (CRM) training improves communication and situational awareness in cockpits.

As we all know aviation industry is developing in a mind blowing speed. New rules, new regulations, new technological equipment are involving on the area of responsibility of the professionals. This situation increases the need for continuous refreshment training and education and self-development. All aviation workers must be aware of the need for staying with updated knowledge.

Finally, it is fair to say that runway incursions are like nightmares of aviation and may end with devastating results. On the other hand, if necessary precautions are taken they can be minimized by professionals and all related staff in aviation.

References and Further Reading on Runway Incursion

For more articles click.

One thought on “Runway Incursion: When Planes and Paths Cross the Wrong Way

  • Easy to read, good cover of topic. Nice…

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