Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Close Calls on United States Airport Runways Rise Sharply: Hazardous incidents substantially surpassed federal safety standards in five months of latest year
The Wall Street Journal
By ANDY PASZTOR
Nov. 30, 2016 2:23 p.m. ET
Hazardous runway incidents at U.S. airports in fiscal 2016 increased for the third year in a row, significantly exceeding federal safety targets in five of those months and climbing 25% overall from a year earlier.
Both the raw numbers and frequency of the most dangerous types of close calls on the ground rose significantly in the federal fiscal year ended Sept. 30, according to preliminary government data that hasn’t yet been widely distributed. The jump came despite stepped-up federal and industry efforts to reverse the trend.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said in total, there were more than 1,560 instances nationwide when planes came closer than permitted to each other, or to vehicles, on the tarmac. That’s up from about 1,450 in fiscal 2015 and roughly 1,250 in 2013 and 2014.
For the latest year as a whole, the rate of the highest-risk incidents, adjusted for monthly fluctuations in air traffic, barely met the agency’s internal, long-established limit of about four such “runway incursions” per 10 million flights; they substantially exceeded the limit in five of the 12 months. The FAA’s strategic plan calls for compliance with that cap through at least September 2017.
The comparable rate for fiscal 2015 came in at roughly three serious events per 10 million flights, and hovered well below the rate stretching back to 2013.
Despite years of initiatives to combat such threats—including a high-profile campaign rolled out earlier this year—the most dangerous categories of runway incursions continued to increase in fiscal 2016. According to the FAA, there were 19 close calls resulting in significant chances of accidents or collisions that were narrowly avoided, versus 15 the year before.
The statistics cover airliners, business jets and private aircraft at airports with towers across the country. With some 700 million passengers getting on U.S. carriers every year and roughly 30,000 commercial flights in the air each day, runway errors amount to a tiny sliver of that total.
The FAA recorded nearly 50 million flights of all aircraft nationwide in fiscal 2016, while there hasn’t been a major runway collision of big planes on a U.S. strip in recent memory.
Still, annual runway incursion statistics are considered an important benchmark of aviation safety. They are closely watched by experts inside and outside the FAA as harbingers of hazardous trends and impending threats.
That’s partly because commercial aviation has become so safe there hasn’t been a single passenger fatality from the crash of a scheduled U.S. airliner in seven years. Statistically, experts say the most dangerous portion of any airliner flight is the time spent taxiing on the ground.
Runway safety is equally daunting in Europe. In the past decade, nearly one out of five fatal accidents involved runway incursions, according to the European Aviation Safety Agency’s 2016 statistical review.
Runway incidents depend on a host of factors, from the level of traffic to airport layouts to lighting and signs on the tarmac. Variations among local controller procedures also have an impact. In fiscal 2016, pilot mistakes were roughly three times more likely to cause incursions than air-traffic controller errors, based on FAA numbers.
Federal officials and industry safety experts have had a roller-coaster history combating close calls between planes on the ground. In fiscal 2008, with the number of runway incursions climbing to a five-year high, FAA leaders invoked a nationwide “call to action” to deal with the problem. Rates for the most serious incidents dropped sharply in the next two years, spiked in 2012 and then went down again.
Earlier this year however, both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates aviation accidents and incidents, became concerned again about the stubborn upward trend. Renewing focus on the hazards, the FAA boosted efforts to analyze incident patterns, enhance pilot education and help airport operators mitigate specific risks.
Across the U.S., busy airports already have installed special lights designed to alert crews before planes mistakenly taxi onto an active runway. Similarly, plane manufacturers and cockpit-equipment suppliers have devised various systems intended to warn pilots if they line up to land or take off on an incorrect strip.
Nonetheless, the latest numbers highlight the challenges of reducing the most pressing runway risks, even if the total number of incursions starts to go down. During several months of 2016 when overall incursion numbers stayed basically flat, the rate for the highest-risk incidents nevertheless exceeded maximum FAA targets by double-digit margins.
Original article can be found here: http://www.wsj.com
Posted by Kathryn on 3:08:00 PM