How Airports can Improve Runway Safety and 7 Key Actions to be Implemented Today

Juan Manuel Manriquez Viñas by Juan Manuel Manriquez Viñas | Feb 9, 2022

Did you know that runway incursions and excursions represent two out of the top five high-risk categories identified in the Global Aviation Safety Plan by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)?

The aviation industry has been collectively working to improve runway safety for many years. ICAO and the Runway Safety Partners (ACI, IATA, The Flight Safety Foundation, CANSO, among others) developed the Global Runway Safety Action Plan (GRSAP) and many other initiatives to improve runway safety, the Global Reporting Format (GRF) being the most recent.

As the aviation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several old and new factors to be considered for improving runway safety. Let’s explore some of them.

Mitigating the risks of runway incursions, excursions, and safety issues

When I think about runway safety, the first few things that come to mind are collaboration, partnership, and safety risk management. Consequently, a Runway Safety Team (RST) becomes a fundamental pilar to building a comprehensive program to effectively manage runway safety.

RST is a multi-disciplinary team, led by the airport operator, that proactively manages runway safety, conducting hazard identification, safety risk assessments and implementing action plans to improve runway safety. RSTs may not necessarily replace existing cross-disciplinary teams such as an Airside Safety Committee but should be integrated within the safety management system of an airport. If you don’t have an RST yet, it is time to build one!

A proactive approach to managing runway safety, what does that mean?

In simple terms, humans are reactive by nature, and aviation professionals are not an exception. We tend to measure our performance based on reactive indicators, for example: number of runway incursions or excursions per X number of aircraft movements. Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to maintain these lagging performance indicators, however emphasis should be given to the performance of the leading indicators, those that comprise ”safety nets” designed to stop the chain of events that could lead to a runway incursion or excursion (i.e., number of runway inspections completed vs the number of runway inspections planned, etc.).

Opportunities of the virtual world

In this enhanced virtual world, we can leverage available technology and be more creative in solving problems. For example, bringing pilots from international airlines to participate in RSTs has always been a challenge and now they can virtually attend. If we take this one step further, we could include specialists from different airports, and other stakeholders. These cross-border and cross-organizational RSTs could be instantly notified of ongoing trends, events, or best practices.  

In today’s world, airports can partner with other airports to mutually participate in each other’s RST meetings and share best practices, perhaps even organize virtual visits to the runway or a hot spot.

Seven actions that you can do now to improve runway safety  

  • Most importantly, if you do not have a Runway Safety Team in place, now is time to implement one. If you do have one, make sure that it is effective.
  • Review if the existing mitigating measures to increase runway safety are well executed.  
  • Implement leading performance indicators.
  • Host an APEX in Safety review.  It is a great way to identify existing gaps and develop corrective action plan.
  • Follow your standard operating procedures (SOPs) and avoid having SOPs on paper only. In other words, write what you do and do what you have written.
  • Implement the Global Reporting Format (GRF).
  • Pay attention to human factors. This pandemic has increased the chances of human error. Now, more than ever, factors like stress, fatigue, pressure, distraction, etc. are present in our lives and, when combined, can complicate even the simplest task.

There is no one simple solution to runway safety, it is the job of multiple stakeholders working together and collaboratively to identify hazards, conduct risk assessments, and implement mitigating measures to improve runway safety.

ACI Runway Safety Handbook – Second Edition 2022
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Juan Manuel Manriquez Viñas

Juan Manuel Manriquez Viñas

Juan Manuel Manriquez Viñas is an airport professional with over 20 years of airport experience, related to airside and landside operations, airport design, construction, aerodrome certification, passenger satisfaction, ground handling and cargo management.
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