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Runway Crossing Incursions
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A Runway Crossing Incursion is considered here to occur when an aircraft or vehicle which requires to cross one or more active runways, in order to complete an intended aerodrome ground movement, comes into actual or potential conflict with an aircraft using the same runway for landing or take off. A crossing aircraft may be one which has just landed or is en route to an intended take off on another runway. In this context, a rotary wing aircraft which is hover-taxiing in ground effect should be considered as equivalent to a fixed wing aircraft or vehicle on the ground rather than as an aircraft ‘in flight’.
In accordance to ICAO SARPs, a specific ATC Clearance is required for every runway crossed regardless of whether it is active or not. According to Doc 4444, paragraph 188.8.131.52.1.2 “When a taxi clearance contains a taxi limit beyond a runway, it shall contain an explicit clearance to cross or an instruction to hold short of that runway.”
The majority of aerodromes where more than one runway is simultaneously active chose to ensure that active runways are notified on the ATIS with any changes thereafter advised directly. This has the advantage of focusing the attention of all concerned specifically on the active runways. Whilst the EAPPRI states that “when a taxi clearance contains a taxi limit / reporting point beyond a runway, it shall contain a specific clearance to cross that runway, or an instruction to hold short, even if the runway is not in use” this procedure is not universally adopted. This particularly applies at airports where inactive runways revert to active taxiway use, which is a common practice at many busy airports.
It should be noted that a crossing aircraft may be in service or being towed or taxied out of service, noting that in the latter case, there is frequently no requirement for a pilot to be present in the flight deck since the movement is not occurring as a prelude to an intended flight, following a rejected take off or after a landing.
If an aerodrome is designed so that there is no need for aircraft or vehicles to cross an active runway, then the risk of this type of incursion is confined to discretionary use by ATC of such clearances.
Whilst there are many possible scenarios for this type of incursion, the majority appear to occur as a consequence of either:
- The inadvertent issue of conflicting clearances to a crossing aircraft or vehicle and another aircraft using the same runway for take off or landing
- The inadvertent failure of an aircraft or vehicle to stop at the limit of its taxi clearance or otherwise correctly follow it
In the case of runway crossing incursions at aerodromes with more than one active runway in simultaneous use, there appears to be a greater probability of such incursions involving aircraft taxiing in after landing than those taxiing out for take off - although there does not seem to be any conclusive data to support such a proposition. Whilst there is no common practice on the designation of dedicated landing and take off runways in relation to terminal facilities which are located in a position where either aircraft taxing in or those taxiing out must cross an active runway, a preference for giving taxiing-in aircraft a route without a runway crossing is frequently favoured.
Controllers should note that the height of the Visual Control Room (TWR) may mean that just because runway occupancy cannot be visually monitored from it because of poor visibility, this does not mean that vehicle and aircraft movements are taking place in forward visibility which is sufficiently low to demand the enhanced vigilance which can be expected in such conditions. In this context, it should be noted that whilst available data tends to indicate that low visibility alone is not a significant contributory factor in the majority of runway incursions, probably because of the enhanced vigilance thereby invited, controllers should recognise that Low Visibility Procedures (LVP) status is often not equivalent to low surface visibility and should thus not automatically be associated with such enhanced vigilance.
When such circumstances arise and an incursion begins, adequate situational awareness on the part of at least one of the three parties involved (ATC, the aircraft landing/taking off and aircraft or vehicle crossing) will have already been lost. However, in most cases, the relatively slow speed of the crossing aircraft or vehicle should provide a reasonable chance that the seriousness of the resultant incursion can be contained if situational awareness of one or more of the other parties is properly maintained.
Situational awareness is fundamental to both the prevention of runway crossing incursions and the mitigation of their effects once an incursion has begun. It is widely recognised that the use of more than one language for ATC communications, in respect of runway occupancy, is not in line with the best practice for risk management of runway crossing incursions.
It has often been found that a human error made by any party which creates the conditions for a runway crossing incursion involves either distraction or complacency. The former requires that a sterile environment should be maintained in aircraft flight decks and vehicle cabs and invites, inter alia, an assessment of the need for the wearing of headsets by controllers at all times. It is important to recognise that familiarity with one’s task as a controller (and in the case of aircraft or airside vehicles, one’s own location) should not lead to a reduced focus on any aspect of aircraft ground movement where active runway crossing is routinely necessary.
Prevention - Aerodrome Design and Use
The following risk mitigations are considered best practice:
- Whenever possible, the crossing of active runways should be rendered unnecessary by design. This means that where it is going to be routinely necessary to cross the extended centreline of a runway, a perimeter taxiway should be available which is sufficiently distant from the runway threshold for landing and take off to continue whilst crossing is occurring.
- When the above is not possible, the aerodrome layout should be such that all crossings are made at 90° to the active runway centreline. Crossing traffic on an active runway should never by cleared to cross after entry on a reverse-direction RET since this precludes any visual check for potential runway actual or imminent occupation before entering to cross.
- Aerodromes which have experienced serious runway incursion events have often chosen to modify the detail alignment of those taxiways which may be used as runway crossing entry points by introducing a significant change of direction shortly before a runway intersection occurs.
- A runway longitudinal profile which has one or both thresholds significantly below the elevation of the highest part of the runway can prevent effective checking that a runway is clear before crossing commences and should be regarded as a hazard to be addressed in the long term and recognised until it is so addressed.
- Ground markings, signage and lighting which ensure that both vehicles and taxiing aircraft can readily and unambiguously determine their position - by day or by night and in any forward visibility in which they are permitted to operate - are essential. The provision of H24 controllable stop bars at all holding points where crossings of active runways may routinely occur is highly recommended as is the corresponding provision of H24 taxiway and lead-on lighting at all designated runway crossing points. Where aerodrome design requires the frequent crossing of active runways, consideration should be given to the feasibility and potential risk mitigation provided by Runway Status Lights (RWSL) and the associated FAROS system.
- Airside Driving Permits should only be issued following training which emphasises the importance of continuous situational awareness. This should include a sufficient understanding of ATC communications not only to communicate appropriately and act in strict accordance with instructions but to allow passive monitoring of radio traffic to enhance visual situational awareness. Such Permits should be allowed to remain valid only subject to a formally specified programme of recurrent training.
Prevention - Aircraft and Vehicle Operators
The following risk mitigations are considered best practice:
- The maintenance of a sterile environment should be mandated in both aircraft flight decks and vehicle cabs during ground manoeuvring in order to minimise the chances of distraction.
- Sensible maximum ground speeds should be mandated and enforced by whatever means are available, including in the case of aircraft the use of the OFDM process and in the case of vehicles the use of driver identity recording and random checks of vehicle recorders where fitted.
- Current aerodrome charts at a scale which is sufficient to show all permitted taxiways/runways and all intermediate and runway access holding points and their designations must be available to pilots and drivers in a form that facilitates ready reference to them.
- Where vehicles are likely to have to cross active runways whilst airside, consideration should be given to requiring two people to be present in the driving cab where seating is available in order to add an element of monitoring of the driver’s actions. To be effective, this would require the second occupant to have completed a similar course to a permit holding driver without necessarily being able to drive.
- Where aircraft operators permit their out-of-service aircraft to be towed or to be taxied under their own power without at least one pilot being present on the flight deck, they should satisfy themselves not only that adequate training has been given to approved persons, but that a system of recurrent training is in place.
Prevention - Flight Crew/Vehicle Drivers
Three factors are considered paramount in avoiding involvement in a runway crossing incursion:
- the maintenance of visual situational awareness in respect of ground position.
- the careful monitoring of other traffic in the vicinity by active visual monitoring supported, insofar as primary tasks permit, by passive monitoring of ATC communications with relevant traffic.
- the careful receipt of, read back of and adherence to all ATC clearances supported by active monitoring of the pilot or driver in control by other qualified persons present in the flight deck or vehicle cab respectively.
In addition, flight crew should:
- note that when instructed to follow other traffic, this never automatically includes a clearance to enter or cross an active runway - each aircraft requires a specific clearance.
- aim to complete check list activity before crossing an active runway and if this is not possible suspend such activity until a runway crossing is complete.
- avoid stopping on a runway when crossing it unless they are specifically instructed to do so.
- expect communication with ATC shortly after receiving a "Line up and wait" clearance (usually within 90 seconds). If no further clearance is received, informing the controller that the aircraft has lined up should be considered.
Even with the assiduous application of all these good practices, the final defence against a runway collision, when approaching to or crossing an active runway, is an effective visual check in the direction from which any aircraft in the process of landing or taking off would come. For aircraft, the use of the TCAS display to check for traffic on or approaching the runway about to be entered is considered good practice.
If, for any reason, a risk of collision is perceived once in the process of crossing an active runway, it is important that the decision to stop or continue is made on the basis of an assessment of the visible facts. These may not necessarily accord with any instructions from the control tower due to their remoteness from the point of risk.
Any decision that the best course of action for an aircraft accelerating for take off is to continue, on the basis that over flight of a crossing aircraft or vehicle will be possible, will frequently be made in conjunction with an increase to maximum rated take off thrust from the reduced thrust setting usually used.
Prevention – ANSPs
A number of complimentary measures could help reduce runway crossing incursions:
- The issue of a clearance to cross an active runway should always be given directly by the runway controller on the single frequency used for all clearances to access a particular active runway for any purpose.
- Only one language should be in use for all communications on the frequency designated for use by a runway controller.
- Where OJT is in progress, procedures should require that all active runway crossing clearances are specifically monitored by the qualified training controller.
- Unambiguous procedures to cover any malfunction of stop bar lighting at runway holding points should be in place.
- Consideration should be given to the most appropriate way(s) to ensure that the prevailing use of controllable stop bar lighting in support of taxi clearances is effectively communicated to aircraft using an aerodrome.
- If runway crossing is permitted when alternative but less efficient alternatives exist, the circumstances when it is permitted and the process to be followed should be established.
- Arrangements for the display to runway controllers of active runway occupancy by aircraft or vehicles should include runway crossing clearances.
- All holding points or positions at which runway crossing is permitted should have an unrestricted line of sight from the runway control position or equivalent CCTV coverage.
- Exceptional vigilance is required if vehicles or aircraft on one runway are instructed to hold clear of an intersecting runway to await crossing clearance if, as is likely, there are no holding point markings or associated lighting to indicate a specific holding position.
- Systems which alert controllers to potential or actual runway incursions should incorporate an audio alert as well as a visual representation of the location and opposing traffic.
Prevention - Controllers
Good practices for runway controllers which could reduce the risk of runway crossing incursions include:
- Any active runway crossing clearance should be regarded as of equivalent significance to a take off or landing clearance
- Where controllable lit stop bars are not installed at every designated holding point, aircraft taxi clearance limits prior to the expected crossing of an active runway should always correspond to positions where this facility exists
- If a frequency change is not required to cross an active runway, the clearance to do so should not be given any earlier than it would be if such a change was required
- The issue of crossing clearances which are likely to result in late landing clearances should be avoided
- Where circumstances permit, runway crossing clearances should be given as near to either end of a runway as possible and, where this is not possible, full length take offs should be preferred
- In the event that it is realised by a pilot or driver that an incursion has occurred and that a collision has become a possibility, it is essential that any instruction to either party to stop or to continue is made promptly and appropriately
- All active runway crossing clearances should be issued with a requirement to report clear of the runway after crossing and this confirmation should be obtained before any use of the same runway for take off or landing is authorised
- A handover briefing to facilitate a change of runway controller should seek to avoid the interval between the issue of any runway crossing clearance and the subsequent “runway vacated” call
- Whenever possible, runway crossing clearances should minimise the time which an aircraft or vehicle is on the active runway
- Aircraft under tow are best positioned prior to crossing as close as possible to a suitable exit taxiway
- The use of standard taxi routes for runway crossing is strongly advised.
- When the time is critical, controllers should consider informing the crossing aircraft/vehicle of traffic which will subsequently land or take off on the same runway
- Since pilots require a general overview of their expected taxi routing, it may be appropriate in the case of complex detail to provide such an overview first and then divide the detail of the message into segments, placing the clearances and instructions in sequential order. This should help reduce the chances of pilot misunderstanding, while still providing the complete picture.
Mitigating the consequences of a crossing incursion
The two principal ways in which the consequences of an incursion can be mitigated are the recognition of an imminent risk of conflict by at least one of the pilots or drivers involved or by the designated runway controller. In the case of pilots and drivers, it is important that they are aware of the direction of use of any active runway they are about to cross so that their pre-entry check for actual or potential conflict is made in the appropriate direction.
In either case, this recognition may be supported or replaced by activation of a ground or airborne safety net which may communicate situational awareness directly to a driver or pilot or provide it through controller alerting which then may prompt the issue of risk reduction instructions. Early ground safety nets were mainly based on A-SMGCS level 2 but this data is now increasingly being supplemented by fixed position sensors and by automatic vehicle/aircraft position transmission. In the USA, and now for the first time in Europe at Paris CDG (inner northern runway, direct pilot alerting through the RWSL system is improving the mitigation of both any hazardous consequences of an incursion and the chances of preventing one altogether. In the USA, the latest RWSL installations are being supplemented by the FAROS system which annunciates an occupied runway to aircraft on approach to land.
Some Serious Incident Examples
- A319 / A320, Paris CDG France, 2014 (On 25 November 2014, the crew of an Airbus A320 taking off from Paris CDG and in the vicinity of V1 saw an A319 crossing the runway ahead of them and determined that the safest conflict resolution was to continue the takeoff. The A320 subsequently overflew the A319 as it passed an estimated 100 feet agl. The Investigation concluded that use of inappropriate phraseology by the TWR controller when issuing an instruction to the A319 crew had led to a breach of the intended clearance limit. It was also noted that an automated conflict alert had activated too late to intervene.)
- A320 / B738 Barcelona Spain, 2012 (On 27 May 2012, an Airbus A320 departing Barcelona was cleared by GND to taxi across an active runway on which a Boeing 737-800 was about to land. Whilst still moving but before entering the runway, the A320 crew, aware of the aircraft on approach, queried their crossing clearance but the instruction to stop was given too late to stop before crossing the unlit stop bar. The 737 was instructed to go around and there was no actual risk of collision. The Investigation attributed the controller error to lack of familiarisation with the routine runway configuration change in progress.)
- A320 / F50, Adelaide Australia, 2016 (On 17 August 2016, a Fokker F50 crossed an active runway at Adelaide ahead of an A320 which was about to land after both its pilots and the controller involved had made assumptions about the content of radio transmissions they were aware they had not fully heard. The Investigation found that the A320 crew had responded promptly to the potential conflict by initiating a low go around over the other aircraft and noted that stop bars were not installed at Adelaide. In addition, aircraft taxiing across active runways were not required to obtain their crossing clearances on the runway control frequency.)
- A320 / SW4, Calgary AB Canada, 2016 (On 2 December 2016, the crew of an Airbus A320 passing 100 knots on takeoff at Calgary saw another aircraft crossing an intersection ahead but continued because they considered that, as the other aircraft was already more than half way across, it would be clear before they reached that point. The Investigation found that the GND Controller had cleared the other aircraft to cross after forgetting that the runway was active and under TWR control. It was concluded that the response of the ANSP SMS process to a history of identical controller errors and related reports had been inadequate.)
- A321 / B734, Barcelona Spain, 2015 (On 25 November 2015, an Airbus A321 taxiing for departure at Barcelona was cleared across an active runway in front of an approaching Boeing 737 with landing clearance on the same runway by a Ground Controller unaware that the runway was active. On reaching the lit stop bar protecting the runway, the crew queried their clearance and were told to hold position. Noting that the event had occurred at the time of a routine twice-daily runway configuration change and two previous very similar events in 2012 and 2014, further safety recommendations on risk management of runway configuration change were made.)
- A343 / B763, Barcelona Spain, 2014 (On 5 July 2014, an Airbus A340-300 taxiing for departure at Barcelona was cleared across an active runway in front of an approaching Boeing 767 with landing clearance on the same runway by a Ground Controller unaware that the runway was active. Sighting by both aircraft resulted in an accelerated crossing and a very low go around. The Investigation noted the twice-daily runway configuration change made due to noise abatement reasons was imminent. It was also noted that airport procedure involved use of stop bars even on inactive runways and that their operation was then the responsibility of ground controllers.)
- B190 / B737, Calgary Canada, 2014 (On 29 March 2014, a Beech 1900D being taxied by maintenance personnel at Calgary entered the active runway without clearance in good visibility at night as a Boeing 737-700 was taking off. The 737 passed safely overhead. The Investigation found that the taxiing aircraft had taken a route completely contrary to the accepted clearance and that the engineer on control of the aircraft had not received any relevant training. Although the airport had ASDE in operation, a transponder code was not issued to the taxiing aircraft as required and stop bar crossing detection was not enabled at the time.)
- B38M, Helsinki Finland, 2019 (On 18 January 2019, two aircraft taxiing for departure at Helsinki were cleared to cross the landing runway between two landing aircraft. Landing clearance for the second was given once the crossing traffic had cleared as it passed 400 feet in expectation that the previous landing aircraft would also shortly be clear. However, the first landing aircraft was slower than expected clearing the runway and so the second was instructed to go-around but did not then do so because this instruction was lost in the radar height countdown below 50 feet and the runway was seen clear before touchdown.)
- B732 / A321, Manchester UK, 2004 (On 29 February 2004, a Boeing 737-200 crossed an active runway in normal daylight visibility ahead of a departing Airbus A321, the crew of which made a high speed rejected take off upon sighting the other aircraft after hearing its crossing clearance being confirmed. Both aircraft were found to have been operating in accordance with their acknowledged ATC clearances issued by the same controller. An alert was generated by the TWR conflict detection system but it was only visually annunciated and had not been noticed. Related ATC procedures were subsequently reviewed and improved.)
- B735/B733, Dallas-Fort Worth TX USA, 2001 (On 16 August 2001, a Continental Boeing 737-500 which had just landed on runway 18R at Dallas-Fort-Worth crossed runway 18L in daylight in front of a Delta Boeing 737-300 which had originally been believed to be holding position but was then seen to be taking off from the same runway. The Delta aircraft rotated early and sharply to overfly the crossing aircraft and suffered a tail strike in doing so. Clearance was estimated to have been about 100 feet. Both aircraft were being operated in accordance with valid ATC clearances issued by the same controller.)
- B737 / A320, Los Angeles CA USA, 2007 (On 16 August 2007, a Westjet Boeing 737-700 which had just landed began to cross a runway in normal daylight visibility from which an Airbus A320 was taking off because the crew had received a clearance to do so after an ambiguous position report given following a non-instructed frequency change. When the other aircraft was seen, the 737 was stopped partly on the runway and the A320 passed close by at high speed with an 11 metre clearance. The AMASS activated, but not until it was too late to inform a useful controller response.)
- B737 / A332, Seatle-Tacoma WA USA, 2008 (On 2 July 2008, an Air Tran Airways B737-700 which had just landed at night on runway 34C at Sea-Tac failed to hold clear of runway 34R during taxi as instructed and passed almost directly underneath a North West Airlines A330-200 which had just become airborne from Runway 32R. The Investigation found that the 737 crew had been unaware of their incursion and that the alert provided by ASDE-X had not provided an opportunity for ATC to usefully intervene to stop prevent the potential conflict)
- Runway Incursion
- Taxi-in Runway Incursions
- Runway Incursion and Airport Design
- Runway Identification
- European Action Plan for the Prevention of Runway Incursions (EAPPRI)
- Flight Operations Risk Assessment Checklist - Active Runway Crossing
- Land and Hold Short Operations
- Runway Status Lights (RWSL)
- Analysis of reported runway incursion serious incidents - European data sample of 2013 – 2015, EUROCONTROL, Feb 2017
- Analysis of investigated runway incursion accidents and serious incidents - worldwide data sample of 2006 – 2016, EUROCONTROL, Apr 2017
- SAFO 17012: High Collision Risk During Runway Crossing, FAA, Nov 2017
- Final report: Problematic Taxiway Geometry Study Overview, FAA, January 2018