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Runway incursions a concern for Canadian aviation authorities

April 9, 2014, Ottawa - The pilot of a single-engine Cessna airplane preparing to depart the Ottawa airport two years ago was instructed to taxi to runway 32 and “hold short” while two arriving aircraft landed on the same runway first.


April 9, 2014
By The Ottawa Citizen

Instead, as a tower controller watched in disbelief, the Cessna
inexplicably entered the active runway without authorization. The
inbound planes were ordered to overshoot their approaches and make
routine “go-rounds.”

 

It was one of about 25 runway “incursions” at
the airport over the last three years. None resulted in anything more
serious than perhaps a bad scare.

 

But Transport Canada is
concerned. It issued an advisory last week telling aircraft operators
the rate of runway conflicts at Canadian airports remains stubbornly
high. It wants operators, if they haven’t already, to adopt “sterile”
flight decks. That means reducing pilots’ workloads and potential
distractions while aircraft are taxiing to and from runways.

 

Incursions are on the Transportation Safety Board’s watchlist of critical safety issues, too.

 

“Given
the millions of takeoffs and landings each year, incursions are rare,
but their consequences can be catastrophic,” says the federal safety
watchdog agency.

 

The deadliest accident in aviation history
resulted from a runway incursion in March 1977 when two Boeing 747s
collided on a foggy landing strip in the Canary Islands, killing 583
passengers and crew.

 

In Canada, there are approximately 350
incursions a year during roughly six million takeoffs and landings. For
every 100,000 aircraft movements, the incursion rate dropped steadily to
4.25 in 2007 from 5.89 in 2003, according to Transport Canada.

 

But
the rate has been slowly rising since. In 2011, it stood at 6.61 and at
6.09 in 2012. No one is certain why, though some aviation experts
suggest it may be a case of improved reporting due to increased use of
technologies and new airport procedures.

 

Nav Canada, the company
that controls Canada’s civilian airspace, has installed airport surface
detection and other sophisticated anti-incursion equipment at several
major airports, including in Ottawa. Additional changes and improvements
by industry and government include, for example, adopting clearer
phraseology for ground instructions between pilots and controllers.

 

“The
department continues to collaborate with industry stakeholders and our
international partners to address the risk of aircraft collision with
vehicles and other aircraft on the ground at Canadian airports,”
Transport Canada said in a statement Wednesday.

 

The most common
incursion scenarios involve an aircraft or vehicle crossing in front of a
landing or departing aircraft; an aircraft or vehicle crossing the
runway holding-position marking; an aircraft or vehicle unsure of its
position and inadvertently entering an active runway; a breakdown in
communications leading to failure to follow an air traffic control
instruction; and an aircraft passing behind an aircraft or vehicle that
has yet to leave the runway.

 

Airport improvement projects are
another potential problem, resulting in more complex runway and taxiway
layouts, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. The
situation is made worse, it says, by inadequate signage, markings,
lighting and other factors.

 

Nav Canada statistics offer a more
detailed picture. In the three-year period ending March 31, 2013, there
were 1,099 runway incursions at airports overseen by Nav Canada. Of
those, 662 or 60 per cent were blamed on mistakes by pilots. Almost 60
per cent were classified as minor and posing “little or no chance” of
collision.

 

The most revealing figure, however, shows that general
aviation and private pilots — versus commercial airline and military
pilots — were responsible for 68 per cent of incidents where an aircraft
was at fault.