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Fact Sheet – Runway Safety

For Immediate Release

July 5, 2018
Contact: Tammy Jones or Paul Takemoto
Phone: (202) 267-3883

Reducing runway safety risk remains a top priority for the FAA. The FAA places great emphasis on reducing the risks posed by serious runway incursions (defined as category A and B incursions) by focusing on better reporting and analysis methods. The vast majority of incursions (categories C and D) pose no risk of collision.

Total A and B
# Involving
Commercial Aircraft
Fiscal Year

What is a Runway Incursion? 
A runway incursion is any occurrence at an airport involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft.

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.

Collaborative Approach
The FAA works collaboratively with industry partners and labor to develop and deploy runway safety solutions that benefit both stakeholders and the flying public. We apply a proactive Safety Management System to collect valuable data from a number of sources, such as automated traffic data gathering tools and voluntary safety reports. We assess the data to identify root causes and precursor events that may lead to accidents. We then fix the problems by putting in place corrective actions, and robust monitoring plans to measure the effectiveness of our hazard mitigation strategies.

Converging Runway Operations
One of the most substantial safety improvements made to runway safety in 2013 and 2014 was the creation of a new policy related to Converging Runway Operations (CRO). CRO refers to runways that do not intersect, but whose flight paths come together at the same point. CROs present a potential risk of collision for aircraft in intersecting flight paths. The CRO policy limits the use of non-intersecting converging runways where the flight paths intersect within one-nautical mile. FAA implemented new procedures, tools and training to help mitigate risks on converging runways.

Training is a fundamental component of the safety paradigm. The FAA created a training standard for vehicle drivers that permits the airport operator or a designated representative to administer a vehicle training program.  The training standards are derived from CFR Part 139, Certification of Airports; with guidance for application illustrated in Advisory Circular 150/5210-20, Ground Vehicle Operations to include Taxiing or Towing an Aircraft on Airports.  The airport operator or a designated representative conducts initial, recurrent, and remedial driver training for airport employees at all certificated airports requiring movement area access.

Mandatory recurrent runway safety training for air traffic controllers is conducted semi-annually.  Also, the FAA works collaboratively with key safety groups to reach as many pilots as possible with training material that addresses current runway safety issues. A comprehensive online runway safety course and examination are provided by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to members and non-members alike.

Runway Safety Technologies

Runway Status Lights (RWSL)
The FAA developed RWSL technology to increase situational awareness for aircrews and airport vehicle drivers, and thus serve as an added layer of 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 taxiway/runway crossings and illuminate if it is unsafe to enter or cross a 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 and is unsafe for takeoff. 

RWSLs are now operational at the following airports:

  1. Orlando International Airport
  2. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  3. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
  4. Charlotte Douglas International Airport
  5. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
  6. Washington Dulles International Airport
  7. George Bush Intercontinental Airport
  8. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  9. Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport
  10. LaGuardia International Airport
  11. Los Angeles International Airport
  12. Baltimore-Washington International Airport
  13. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
  14. San Francisco International Airport
  15. Newark Liberty International Airport
  16. John F. Kennedy International Airport
  17. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  18. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

The remaining two airports are in progress and scheduled to be operational as follows:

19. General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport–June 2018
20. San Diego International Airport–February 2019

Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model 3 (ASDE-3)/Airport Movement Area Safety System(AMASS)
ASDE-3/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. The system is usually referred to as ASDE-3/AMASS. ASDE-3 is the radar. AMASS is the software and hardware enhancement to the ASDE-3 radar that provides automated alerts and warnings to controllers. ASDE-3/AMASS is operational at nine airports. 

Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X)
ASDE-X provides more precise surface detection technology. While the ASDE-3/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. ASDE-X provides tower controllers a surface traffic situation display with visual and audible alerting of traffic conflicts and potential collisions. ASDE-X is installed at 35 airports in the U.S.  For more information, see the ASDE-X fact sheet on the FAA website. 

Runway Safety Areas (RSA)
On December 31, 2015, the FAA successfully completed a 15-year effort to improve runway safety areas (RSAs) at commercial service airports. More than 1,000 runway ends at 500 airports were improved to offer enhanced safety at the nation’s airports. The RSA is typically 500-feet wide and extends 1,000- feet beyond each end of the runway. It provides a graded area in the event that an aircraft overruns, undershoots, or veers off the side of the runway. The enhancements were made because many airports were built before the current 1,000-foot RSA standard was adopted more than 20 years ago. In some cases, it is not possible to achieve the full standard RSA because there may be a lack of available land. There also may be obstacles such as bodies of water, highways, railroads, and populated areas or severe drop-off of terrain. 

Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS)
EMAS technology provides safety benefits in cases where land is not available or it’s not possible to have the standard 1,000-foot overrun. A standard EMAS installation can stop an aircraft from overrunning the runway at approximately 80 miles per hour. An EMAS arrestor bed can be installed to help slow or stop an aircraft that overruns the runway, even if less than a standard RSA length is available. EMAS uses crushable material placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The tires of the aircraft sink into the lightweight material and the aircraft is decelerated as it rolls through the material.

Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM)
The RIM program is a national initiative to identify airport risk factors that might contribute to a runway incursion, and to develop strategies to help airport sponsors mitigate those risks. Risk factors that contribute to runway incursions may include unclear taxiway markings, airport signage, and more complex issues such as the runway or taxiway layout. The FAA will use the RIM program at airports that have a history of runway incursions to focus on specific airport areas with risk factors that could contribute to a runway incursion. The FAA will work with the airport sponsors to develop strategies to mitigate runway incursions at these locations.  

Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)with Moving Map Displays
Pilots use Moving Map Displays and Aircraft Own-Ship Position to help them determine where their aircraft is on an airfield, thus reducing the chances of being in the wrong place. In May 2014, the FAA published updated guidance providing operators a way to display own-ship position, on the ground, as a Type B EFB Application.  This updated guidance allows operators to utilize COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) equipment to help reduce the costs associated with implementing EFBs. The update is Advisory Circular 120-76C, Guidelines for the Certification, Airworthiness, and Operational Use of Electronic Flight Bags.

Going forward, the 2015-2017 National Runway Safety Plan, sets the stage for future work to enhance and coordinate runway safety activities. The plan directly supports the FAA Administrator’s Strategic Priorities, including initiatives to “Make Aviation Safer and Smarter” by moving to risk-based decision-making, enabling the safe and efficient integration of NextGen, and demonstrating global leadership in improving air traffic safety and efficiency through data-driven solutions that shape international standards.


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