For Immediate Release

October 8, 2009
Contact: Tammy Jones or Paul Takemoto
Phone: (202) 267-3883

The reduction in the number and severity of runway incursions is one of the FAA’s top priorities. The number of serious runway incursions — classified as Categories A and B — dropped by more than 63 percent from fiscal year 2000 through fiscal year 2008. In fiscal year 2009 — which ended Sept. 30 — there were 12 serious runway incursions, 50 percent fewer than the previous fiscal year. Two of the serious incursions involved commercial aircraft and were considered operational errors. All categories of runway incursions were down by six percent in fiscal year 2009 versus fiscal year 2008 — 951 in 2009 compared to 1009 in 2008.

Total A and B
# Involving
Commercial Aircraft
Fiscal Year

What is a Runway Incursion?

A runway incursion is any unauthorized intrusion onto a runway, regardless of whether or not an aircraft presents a potential conflict. This is the international standard, as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization and adopted by the FAA in fiscal year 2008.

It is important to note that the FAA formerly tracked incidents that did not involve potential aircraft conflicts as surface incidents. These incidents were not classified as “runway incursions” and were tracked and monitored separately. Most of these events are now considered Category C or D incursions, which are low-risk incidents with either no conflict potential or ample time or distance to avoid a collision. This means that the total number of runway incursion reports increased primarily because surface incidents are now classified as runway incursions.

There are four categories of runway incursions:

  • Category A is a serious incident in which a collision was narrowly avoided
  • Category B is an incident in which separation decreases and there is a significant potential for collision, which may result in a time critical corrective/evasive response to avoid a collision.
  • Category C is an incident characterized by ample time and/or distance to avoid a collision.
  • Category D is an incident that meets the definition of runway incursion such as incorrect presence of a single vehicle/person/aircraft on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft but with no immediate safety consequences.


Pilots made more than 50 million takeoffs and landings in fiscal year 2009 at U.S. airports with air traffic control towers. These operations were handled by about 15,000 air traffic controllers at more than 500 towered airports. Adding to this complex choreography are the hundreds of thousands of individuals who drive vehicles on airport grounds.

The sheer number of flights, people, and vehicles moving across airport runways and taxiways means there is no single way to reduce runway incursions. Runway safety is a shared responsibility among pilots, controllers, and vehicle drivers. Automated warning systems enhance runway safety, but education and situational awareness are the keys to preventing incursions.

FAA’s Runway Safety Management Strategy

To address the errors committed by pilots, air traffic controllers and airport-authorized vehicle operators and pedestrians, the FAA is focusing on outreach, awareness, improved infrastructure and technology.

Outreach to Pilots

The majority of runway incursions are caused by pilots in violation of regulations and air traffic control instructions — also known as pilot deviations. The FAA completed an analysis of taxi clearances and found that more explicit instructions are needed from controllers to pilots. The FAA has issued new requirements for controllers to give explicit directions to pilots on precise routes to travel from the gate to the runway. The FAA has also issued new requirements for aircraft to have crossed all intervening runways prior to receiving a takeoff clearance. Future requirements will cover runway crossing clearances, take off and landing clearances and the adaptation of international surface phraseology.

Other outreach efforts:

  • The FAA published a booklet for pilots, which highlights communication procedures for safe surface operations at towered and non-towered airports.
  • The agency, in association with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), created two online courses that educate pilots on runway safety. One is tailored for commercial aviation pilots and the other for general aviation pilots.
  • Every year, the FAA conducts hundreds of safety seminars across the country to encourage safe practices on the airfield.
  • The role of Flight Service Station specialists was expanded to provide runway safety information to pilots using towered and non-towered airports.
  • FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors now verify that pilots have current surface movement charts (airport diagrams) available and that they are in use.
  • The FAA, in conjunction with AOPA and the National Association of Flight Instructors, recently sent a runway safety brochure and a DVD with four relevant runway safety videos to U.S. pilots and flight instructors.

Situational Awareness

  • The FAA-produced DVDs to highlight safe surface operations and proper communications procedures for both general aviation and commercial pilots.
  • To enhance air traffic supervisor and controller discussions of serious runway incursions during team briefings, the FAA is developing simulated re-creations of actual incursions.
  • Airport managers and fixed-base operators participate in Runway Safety Action Teams to address airport-specific factors (e.g., procedures, environment and infrastructure) that affect runway safety. The FAA requires driver training programs for all airport operators who access the airfield movement areas at commercial airports.
  • The agency developed and initiated controller training to enhance their skills in teamwork, communication, problem solving, situational awareness and managing workloads.


  • Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS). AMASS is a radar-based system that tracks ground movements and provides an automatic visual and audio alert to controllers when it detects potential collisions on airport runways and taxiways. The FAA has installed AMASS at the nation’s top 34 airports.
  • Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X) provides more precise surface detection technology. While the AMASS is based on non-cooperative sensor technology, ASDE-X integrates data from a variety of sources, including radars, transponder multilateration systems and Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) to provide accurate target position and identification information and thus give controllers a more reliable view of airport operations. When augmented with safety logic, ASDE-X provides tower controllers a surface traffic situation display with visual and audible alerting of traffic conflicts and potential collisions. ASDE-X is being deployed at 35 of the busiest airports in the U.S. For more information, see the ASDE-X fact sheet dated June 2009.
  • Runway Status Lights (RWSL) – The FAA has developed RWSL technology to increase situational awareness for aircrews and airport vehicle drivers and thus serve as an added layer of runway safety. A RWSL system derives traffic information from surface and approach surveillance systems and illuminates red in-pavement airport lights to signal a potentially unsafe situation. Runway Entrance Lights (REL) are deployed at a taxiway/runway crossing and illuminate red when there is high-speed traffic on or approaching the runway to signal that it is unsafe to enter the runway. Takeoff Hold Lights (THL) are deployed in the runway by the departure hold zone and illuminate red when there is an aircraft in position for departure and the runway is occupied by another aircraft or vehicle. RWSL technology is currently under evaluation at three test airports, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Diego and Los Angeles. The FAA will deploy RWSL at the following 22 airports: Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte; Chicago (O’Hare); Dallas-Ft. Worth; Denver; Detroit; Ft. Lauderdale; Houston (George Bush); Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; New York (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark); Orlando; Philadelphia; Phoenix; San Diego; Seattle; and Washington (BWI and Dulles).
  • Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS). Like RWSL, FAROS is designed to provide a visual alert of runway status to pilots intending to use a runway. Arriving aircraft approaching a runway for landing are provided runway occupancy alerting by flashing the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) lights. As with RWSL, the system derives traffic information from approach and surface surveillance systems and uses safety logic to activate the alerting signal (flashing the PAPI) when appropriate. The system is being tested at both Dallas-Ft. Worth and Long Beach/Daugherty Field Airports in California.
  • Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) with Moving Map Displays. The FAA reached agreements with several U.S. airlines to fund in-cockpit runway safety systems in exchange for critical operational data. With Moving Map Displays and Own-Ship Position, pilots will see exactly where their aircraft is on the airfield, thus reducing the chances of losing situational awareness and being in the wrong place. The data will help the FAA evaluate the safety impact of the technology and is expected to accelerate key safety capabilities necessary for the transition to NextGen. The FAA will provide up to $600,000 to each airline to invest in surface moving maps with own-ship position on an Electronic Flight Bag for flights to or from 21 test bed airports. Each agreement will remain in effect through September 2011.
  • Low Cost Ground Surveillance (LCGS) Systems. The agency is moving forward with the evaluation of low-cost, commercially available radar surveillance systems at certain small and medium-sized airports. A low-cost system would further reduce the risk of ground incidents or accidents, especially during periods of low visibility by providing ASDE-X/AMASS-like capabilities. It would be installed at airports that do not have either ASDE-3 or ASDE-X. Spokane International Airport was chosen as a test bed for the evaluation of two potential LCGS technologies. The LCGS are also scheduled to be installed at four pilot facilities: Manchester Boston Regional, San Jose International, Reno/Tahoe International, and Long Beach International airports. Testing is expected to last from one to three years.

Other Initiatives

The FAA’s Call to Action

FAA and industry leaders have identified short-term steps to improve runway safety. These initiatives focused on improved procedures, increased training for airport and airline personnel, and enhanced airport signs and markings. Another short-term initiative is an agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) for a voluntary reporting system. Mid- and long-term goals are being pursued to address maximizing situational awareness, minimizing pilot distraction, and eliminating runway incursions using procedures and technologies. For a detailed status report, see Call to Action fact sheet.

The Runway Safety Council

Formed in October 2008, the Runway Safety Council is a joint effort between the FAA and the aviation industry to look into the root causes of runway incursions. The Council is comprised of representatives from various parts of the aviation industry. A working group integrates investigations of severe runway incursions and conducts a root cause analysis. The working group then presents its root cause analysis to the council and makes recommendations on ways to improve runway safety. The council reviews the recommendations. If accepted, they are assigned to the part of the FAA and/or the industry that is best able to control the root cause and prevent further runway incursions. The council tracks recommendations to make sure appropriate action is taken.

Improved Management Oversight

The FAA established Regional Runway Safety Program Manager positions for each region. Additionally, Runway Safety Action Teams conduct safety reviews and hold meetings at hundreds of airports around the country.

Airfield Changes

  • The FAA developed standards for end-round taxiways, which can keep aircraft from having to cross runways being used for takeoffs and landings at the busiest airports. New end-round taxiways at Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth will eliminate more than 2,000 runway crossings each day.
  • The FAA encourages operators to build perimeter roads around the airfield so that vehicles do not have to be driven across taxiways and runways.

Airport Signs, Marking and Lighting

The FAA updated standards for runway marking and signs, eliminating confusion on airfields. Some of those updates include:

  • Changing the airfield markings (paint) standard for taxiway centerlines at 75 airports (based on enplanements) to require new markings that will alert pilots when they are approaching hold short lines.
  • Working with airport operators to install stop bars at certain runway/taxiway intersections. A stop bar is a series of in-pavement and elevated red lights that indicate to pilots that they may not cross.
  • Recommending that airports improve how they provide information on rapidly changing runway and taxiway construction and closings. The FAA wants airports to provide airlines and pilots with diagrams giving the latest information on runway construction and closings. This would be distributed by email, on a web site or hand-delivery. It would supplement Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS), which are printed as text or delivered verbally, and thus do not have diagrams.

Runway Safety Areas

  • Since the late 1980’s the FAA has had in effect standards for runway safety areas that exceed ICAO standards.
  • The FAA accelerated the improvement of runway safety areas that do not meet agency design standards. Since 2000, 78 percent of the runway safety areas identified as “high priority” have been improved as of October 2009. The FAA expects to make all practicable improvements made by 2015.
  • The FAA, in partnership with industry and airport operators, conducted research to develop a soft-ground arrestor system to quickly stop aircraft that overrun the end of a runway. On the basis of that research, the FAA issued a specification for Engineered Material Arresting Systems, or EMAS. An EMAS bed provides a safety enhancement on runway ends where there is not enough level, cleared land for a standard runway safety area. EMAS has been installed at more than 44 runway ends at 28 airports with plans to install 16 additional EMAS systems at 11 additional airports in the United States.