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Closing Statement: Runway Incursion Safety Issues: Prevention and Mitigation
Christopher A. Hart
Washington, DC

In closing, it’s been a very interesting and informative two days, and we closed with an invigorating roundtable.

I want to thank all of our participants once again for making the trip here today, and for your thoughtful participation. I would also like to thank our forum team, headed by Dan Bartlett, for organizing this thought-provoking event.

The aviation industry has proven itself to be adept at tackling challenging safety issues. In the early 1990’s, the fatal commercial aviation accident rate that had been declining for several decades began to “plateau.” Many safety experts concluded further reduction in the rate was unlikely because the “plateaued” rate was already exemplary. Nonetheless, faced with the concern that the volume of flying was projected to double in the next 15-20 years, which meant that there would be twice as many airline crashes in 15-20 years, the industry began an unprecedented voluntary collaborative safety improvement program to further reduce the rate from the plateau. 

The program was called the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, or CAST.  Amazingly, CAST reduced the flat fatality rate by more than 80% in only 10 years. 

Perhaps the most difficult challenge that we are facing in this forum is to continue pursuing additional remedies for runway incursions even in the absence of a commercial airline accident. Given the frequent accusations that the industry has a “tombstone” mentality and does not attempt to improve safety unless there’s a major airline accident, I applaud the efforts of the FAA, the general aviation community, the commercial aviation industry, and the airports, along with the front-line vigilance of the pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport operators who live and breathe this issue every day, to proactively identify ways of driving down numbers. It’s a sign of this vigilance that all of you came together these last two days out of our common concern about the apparent turnaround in A and B incursions.

Kudos to all of you for your concern and your foresight.

So what have we accomplished in the last two days?  First and foremost, the staff who organized this forum recognized one of the major lessons learned from the CAST collaboration, namely, that everyone who is involved in a problem should be involved in developing the solution.  Hence, staff invited pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport operators, as well as those who collect and analyze the data – in other words, everyone who is involved in the problem – to discuss their perspectives of the runway incursion problem.

Everyone emphasized the need for more and better data.  Data to help us identify the problems, data to help us determine what caused the problems, data to help us develop interventions, and data to help us determine whether the interventions are accomplishing the desired result. We need to determine how to collect better data, how to analyze the data more effectively, and, pursuing the collaboration concept, how to share the data more effectively, both with peers and with other participants in the system.

Perhaps the most challenging issues that warrant better data are the human factors issues regarding human limitations and vulnerabilities and regarding how the human can interact most effectively with the rapidly advancing technologies. There has been considerable progress in understanding human factors in the cockpit, and one program we heard about in the forum is a recently developed program to enhance our understanding of human factors issues that affect air traffic controllers.

We also heard about several exciting new technologies, in the cockpit, in air traffic control facilities, at airports, and in airport ground vehicles, to help increase the situational awareness of pilots, controllers, and vehicle operators alike.

In today’s panel we heard of many activities by the airport community to address “hot spots,” the places on the airport surface where runway incursions are occurring most frequently. These activities include changing procedures, improving training, adding new technologies, and making major capital improvements to modify the airport geometry.

We learned that these responses to the increasing number of runway incursions are happening in a culture that, in the last 15-20 years, has become more sensitized to the potential dangers of runway incursions. Kudos to all of you for refusing any more to await an accident to begin making improvements.  We also learned that what is needed is both site-specific remedies, due to the uniqueness of every airport, as well as systemic remedies that address the commonalities of the system.

Last but not least, we heard from multiple participants that about 80% of runway incursions involve general aviation aircraft.  While the creation of new collaboration networks such as the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, GAJSC, is beginning to bring general aviation stakeholders more consistently into the runway incursion prevention conversation, we learned that this effort must continue. The GA community is broad and multi-faceted, and including all of its constituents in the effort can be challenging.  But kudos to all of you for recognizing and investing in that incredibly important effort.

It is my hope that government, airlines, airports, and others will follow up on the most important directions that we have collaboratively identified in this forum, and will continue to develop and deploy new solutions to the many-faceted problem of runway incursions.

Thank you once again for attending, and we stand adjourned.