SIRM Insights
Topics from the Safety Issue Review Meetings
Runway Safety - SIRM 30.jpg
  • SIRM 30
  • Runway Safety

Runway Safety Discussion

A summary of the topics discussed and key learning points from SIRM 30

The topic of ground safety extends to not only the risk of runway incursion, with the potential for ground collision, but in addition runway excursion. In 2023 there have been several high severity runway incursion/loss of separation events that could have resulted in the collision of two aircraft. The SIRM reviewed the topic of runway safety and explored the associated safety issues.

Airport Ground Infrastructure

The condition of the runway paved surface is critical for safe landing and take-off operations. Discussions on the runway condition included:

  • Presence of grooves – runways without grooves have reduced friction levels that impact the braking action of the aircraft during the landing roll out or during a rejected take-off
  • Lack of camber/crown – a flat runway surface that is lacking camber is far less effective at dispersing water, again reducing the braking action of an aircraft.
  • Correct runway lighting and taxiway markings – poor lighting or markings may result in a loss of situation awareness by the flight crew, with the potential for an incursion.

Aerodrome Navigation Aids

The presence of aerodrome navigation aids is hugely variable across the world regions. Some aerodromes provide ground-based navigations aids that permit precision approaches, such as ILS. While for other aerodromes the ground-based aids may either be unreliable or not even fitted.

In the absence of ground-based navigation aids, terrestrial navigation aids can be utilized providing there is a published RNAV approach procedure for the aerodrome and the aircraft is appropriately equipped. It was highlighted that GNSS interference in the form of spoofing or jamming can make this approach option unavailable, however.

Runway and Taxiway Surface Condition

It’s vital that flight crew have an accurate and up to date awareness of both the runway and apron surface condition – particularly with braking action adversely effected by contaminated surfaces, from the presence of either ice or snow.  Varying reporting requirements for the taxiway v the runway can result in the flight crew not having the full picture – leading to a situation where braking action is insufficient, and the potential for a taxiway or runway incursion or even a collision with another aircraft, obstacle, or ground vehicle.

Lost in translation?

Effective communication between flight crew and air traffic controllers is fundamental to ensure critical information is conveyed and understood. Factors that may hinder the delivery or understanding of an instruction, such as a clearance to enter a runway or a take-off clearance, include:

  • Language barriers – language proficiency of both flight crew and air traffic controllers may lead to instructions being misunderstood or mis-interpreted. This may be compounded when native English speakers are lacking ‘linguistic awareness’ and do not consider the ability of the other party to understand their communication.
  • Frequency congestion/saturation – the inability of flight crew to make contact with the air traffic unit, or vice versa, due to too many users on the same frequency.

Risk transfer…

Mitigation of a particular safety issue can on occasion lead to risk transfer. The group discussed an example of this and highlighted that:

“During the approach phase the flight crew focus can be prioritized on avoiding a deep landing or overshoot to such an extent that the aircraft descends or drifts below the glide slope. This has the potential to introduce a condition where the aircraft could land short of the touch down zone, or even undershoot the runway paved surface."

Inconsistent Definitions

It was highlighted that differences in definitions and terminology can create confusion or lead flight crew to make incorrect assumptions about the level of air traffic service available at an aerodrome. For example, the term ‘controlled’ aerodrome in the US means that as a minimum a weather observer is present, but there is not necessarily an air traffic service available. While in other parts of the world, ‘controlled’ is indicating that some form of air traffic service is available.

What goes on when nobody is watching…

Factors that typically drive reporting of safety events across the aviation ecosystem in general are also applicable within the aerodrome environment. A key driver to reporting being that if someone makes a mistake, they are more likely to report this mistake if there is someone who witnesses the error. To fully understand and mitigate the issues associated with runway safety, the importance of a just culture was highlighted to encourage the reporting of safety events, regardless of who might witness the situation.


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