According to FAA statistics released this week, serious runway incursions have been dramatically decreasing over the last ten years. In the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were only six serious runway incursions, a 50 percent decrease from the previous year. Fiscal year 2009 also saw a 50 percent decrease in runway incursions from fiscal 2008. Since fiscal year 2000, the overall number of runway incursions has dropped by 90 percent, with runway safety improving noticeably every year.
The International Civil Aviation Organization defines a runway incursion as any unauthorized object or person on a runway, whether or not the unauthorized presence interferes with or endangers an aircraft authorized to land, taxi, or take off on that runway. This definition was adopted by the FAA in fiscal year 2008. Runway incursions are divided into four categories based on the level of risk the incursion poses to authorized aircraft, with categories A and B being defined as serious runway incursions.
In category A, a collision is narrowly avoided. Category B incursions entail significant risk of collision but not quite as narrow an escape as category A. Category C runway incursions entail the aircraft having plenty of time and space to avoid a collision, while category D incidents consist of an unauthorized presence on the runway that is removed before it presents any danger of collision with an aircraft. Over the last ten years, thanks to safety improvements, many category A and B incursions have been avoided altogether or downgraded to the much less risky C and D categories.
The FAA credits the whole aviation community with this resounding success in reducing runway. Since 2007, the FAA has intensively coordinated improvements in airport infrastructure, traffic control procedures, pilot training, and communications and detection technologies. All of this has paid off in greatly improved runway safety.
Some of the new safety technologies include better detection technologies that tell controllers when there are objects on the runways, signal lights on runways and at runway crossings that show pilots when it might be unsafe to enter, and moving map displays inside cockpits that pilots can use to see where their aircraft is in relation to others. Improved signage and markings on runways have also reduced incursions. Still more technologies and methods are being tested, with the goal of reducing runway incursions even more.